Scarborough History

Early History

Scarborough Bluffs at Bluffers Park

The last ice age scraped the rocks in a NNE (north-north-east) to SSE (south-south-east) direction. At the end of the last ice age, all the waters in central Ontario (and the great lakes) drained to the east,
toward the St Lawrence River. After the weight of the glaciers left this area, the land slowly began to rise.

During the last Ice Age, much of Toronto was covered by Glacial Lake Iroquois, with a series of steep escarpments marking the lake’s former shoreline. These are most noticeable in three areas: along the current lakeshore at the Scarborough Bluffs, most prominent between Victoria Park Avenue to Highland Creek, and near St. Clair Avenue West between Bathurst Street and the Don River, and north of Davenport Road (around Casa Loma). Although not remarkably hilly, The city has a 200 metre (640 ft) elevation drop from Steeles Ave in the north to Lake Ontario, and over the last 10,000 years erosion has created a number of steep banked ravines along the city’s waterways.

Eroded riverbank in the Rouge River Valley
North of Toronto, between Whitchurch-Stouffville and Aurora is the Oak Ridges Moraine, formed by sediments dropped by the glaciers about 14,000 years ago. Today, the moraine has gently rolling landscape, low hills, kettle lakes, kettle bogs and wide river valleys. Even today, about 30% of its area remains forested, and the Oak Ridges Moraine offers refuge for forest birds as well as significant flora and fauna and is a significant wildlife corridor in well-populated Southern Ontario.

Marshes at the mouth of Humber River
The first known evidence of people in Scarborough goes back to 800 BC, from an archaeological site in Fenwood Heights. The Seneca Indians of the Iroquois nation occupied the region for centuries before 1500, but by the time Europeans first arrived at present-day Toronto, the Mississauga of the Huron nation had pushed them south into upstate New York and Pennsylvania. The first Nations long ago discovered the shortest route between Lake Ontario and Lake Simcoe to Lake Huron goes up the Humber River, portage across the Oak Ridges Moraine and then head down the Holland River to what is now Lake Simcoe. This route was followed (in north to south direction) by Samuel de Champlain in 1615.

The name Toronto is believe to come from the Iroquois word tkaronto, which means “place where trees stand in the water”, though referring to the northern end of Lake Simcoe, where the Huron had planted tree saplings in the shallows to corral fish. The Indian portage route from Lake Ontario to Lake Huron passed through this point, and became known as the Toronto Carrying-Place Trail, which led to its starting point being called “Toronto”.

In 1750, French traders founded Fort Rouillé at the current Exhibition grounds, but was abandoned after the defeat of the French at the Plains of Abraham. The British established the Colony of Upper Canada, so named because it was upstream on the St Lawrence River from French-speaking Lower Canada (now Quebec).

Colonial Upper Canada History

Old Fort YorkIn 1787, the British negotiated the Toronto Purchase with the Mississaugas of New Credit, thereby securing more than a quarter million acres (1000 km²) of land for settlement in the Toronto area. Following the American Revolutionary War, United Empire Loyalists fled for unsettled lands in Upper Canada.

In 1793, Governor John Graves Simcoe established the town of York, named for Prince Frederick, Duke of York and Albany. Simcoe chose the location, believing the new site would be less vulnerable to attack by the Americans, and constructed Fort York at the entrance of the town’s natural harbour, which was sheltered by a long sand-bar peninsula (formed by sand and gravel eroded from the Scarborough Bluffs being pushed westward by the lake’s currents). The settlement was clustered at the eastern end of the harbour behind the peninsula, today roughly Parliament Street & Front Street. Unfortunately, in 1813, and American invading force captured, plundered, and burnt down much of the city in the Battle of York during their five-day occupation.

When York County was created in 1792 it had two ridings, East and West York which included the City of Toronto. In the period 1790-1812 groups of Pennsylvania “Dutch” (Germans) Mennonites and peace-loving Quakers, and other United Empire Loyalists arrived from the United States and settled throughout York County. There was even a group of French Royalists fleeing the French Revolution, establishing a settlement near Oak Ridges.

In 1797, the Yonge Street colonial road was completed to Holland Landing, providing an overland supply route from Lake Ontario at York to the British naval bases on Georgian Bay. During the war of 1812, a pine fort was built by Simcoe near Holland Marsh to protect the route against a possible American attack from the north.

Scarborough was named by lieutenant governor of Upper Canada John Graves Simcoe’s wife Elizabeth Simcoe, who thought the bluffs reminder her of England’s Scarborough, located on the coast of North Yorkshire.
In the 1830s, a colonial coach road was built running from Windsor along the Thames River and the northern shore of Lake Ontario and the St Lawrence River, all the way to Quebec. The section between York and Kingston was known as “the Kingston Road” was the main thoroughfare for early Scarborough.

York was incorporated as the City of Toronto in 1834, with its original native name, when it had 9,000 residents. The city had some escaped southern slaves and Upper Canada banned slavery in 1834. Reformist politician William Lyon Mackenzie became the first Mayor of Toronto, and led the unsuccessful Upper Canada Rebellion of 1837 against a corrupt and ineffective British colonial government, which (though unsuccessful as a revolt) led to a number of governmental reforms. The city grew rapidly over the 1800s as a major destination for immigrants, including the Irish n the late 1840s, following their famine. By 1851, the Irish – mostly Catholic — were the largest single ethnic group in the city. The existing Scottish and English population also welcomed smaller numbers of Protestant Irish immigrants.

After Confederation

Queens Park-Legislature BuildingToronto was twice (briefly) the capital of the united Province of Canada in 1849-1852, and again in 1856-1858, after which Quebec was the capital until 1866, when Ottawa became the Capital of Canada.] Toronto has been the capital of Upper Canada from 1793, and became the capital of the new Province of Ontario after its official creation in 1867. The Ontario Legislature is located at Queen’s Park, and Toronto is also the location of Government House, the residence of the vice-regal representative of the Crown.

Along the Don River, there was an expansion of industrial capacity including brewers, distillers, brickworks, and textile manufacturers. This led to an expansion of employment for those moving to the city. By the end of the century Toronto had grown to about 200,000 residents.

As Toronto expanded to Scarborough’s west, residential housing was built along the Kingston Road and Danforth Road in Scarborough.

In the 1900s

By 1854, long-distance railway lines included a route to the Upper Great Lakes built by the Grand Trunk Railway and the Great Northern Railway, and by the late 1880s the line was extended to the Pacific Ocean. In the late 1800s, and extensive sewage system was built and the streets were lit by gas lamps. Horse-drawn streetcars gave way to electric streetcars in 1891, with the formation of the Toronto Railway Company. By the early 1900s, Toronto built a new City Hall (now its the “Old” one), and Union Station was built to handle the growing city’s passenger rail traffic. The public transit system became publicly owned in 1921 as the Toronto Transportation Commission (the “TTC”), which became the Toronto Transit Commission.

Cornell House Historical Plaque

The Great Toronto Fire of 1904 destroyed a large section of downtown Toronto, causing over $10 million in damage, but the city was quickly rebuilt. The fire led to more stringent fire safety laws, a boom in stone construction, and the expansion of the city’s fire department.

Downtown Toronto became home to ever-higher buildings, culminating in the CIBC building which was for a time the tallest building in the British Commonwealth. In the 1920s, Prohibition in Canada and the US banned consumption of liquor, but businesses were allowed to manufacture for export. The Gooderham & Worts distillery in Toronto’s east end became the largest distillery in the Commonwealth, [presumably] selling much of its product to American bootleggers (more famously, the Bronfmans were doing the same with their Montreal-based Seagram’s distillery).

Both Toronto and Scarborough received large groups of immigrants from Germany, Italy, Poland, Russia and China, as well as Jews from all over Eastern Europe. By the 1920s, Toronto’s population and economic importance was second only to the much more established Montreal, though by 1934 the Toronto Stock Exchange (the “TSE”) had become the largest in the country helping make Toronto the financial centre of the country.

After World War II Growth

Following the Second World War, refugees from war-torn Europe, poor areas of Italy and Portugal, and Chinese fleeing the unrest there came to Toronto. When race-based immigration policies were reformed in the late 1960s, immigration grew from all parts of the world. Toronto’s population was 1 million in 1951, when Toronto began expanding into the suburbs in all directions. The city doubled to two million by 1971 and was bursting at its municipal boundaries.

Scarborough Town Centre food court skylights
The Scarborough Town Centre was developed as the major commercial and entertainment hub east of Toronto’s Yonge Street and is located beside the Scarborough Civic Centre, Albert Campbell Square, and Consilium Place. Originally the city centre for the old City of Scarborough government, it now includes the Scarborough Walk of Fame honouring notable residents, past and current. The Centre is now connected to the TTC Subway system by the Scarborough Rapid Transit (RT) route.

Tigers at the Toronto Zoo
In 1974, the Toronto Zoo was moved from its original Riverdale location to the Rouge River valley, expanding its overall area from a cramped 3 hectares to a modern 300 hectares modern zoo where animals have space and settings duplicating their natural environments.

The postwar boom created a need for a coordinated land use strategy and shared municipal services to make the region more efficient. In 1954, the City of Toronto joined a regional government known as Metropolitan Toronto, which included the immediately surrounding municipalities including Etobicoke, York, North York, East York and Scaborough. The metropolitan government managed cross-boundary services including highways, water and public transit. In 1998, by the authority of the Province of Ontario, the 6 metropolitan municipal governments were dissolved and amalgamated into a single one, the current City of Toronto (colloquially, the “megacity”).

Residences at Victoria Park & Kingston
According to a United Nations report, Toronto has the second-highest proportion of immigrants in the world (over half were born outside Canada), after Miami, Florida. Toronto’s however reflect a much more diverse cultural & linguistic mix, with a tranquility and tolerance that is the hallmark of Canadian society.

1 on 6 Scarborough residents is Chinese, 1 in 6 is South Asian, 1 in 10 is black. These immigrants have clustered into vibrant multicultural locales around Scarborough, including a Chinatown in Agincourt, and the major throughfares all feature Caribbean, Chinese and Halal restaurants and shops.