We’ll begin today’s walk at the Scarborough Museum, near West Highland Creek, which we crossed during our stroll along the Gatineau Hydro Corridor last week. There is currently an exhibition about the life and diaries of Frances Tweedie Milne and I am reliably informed by The City of Toronto that there will be “baked holiday goodies.” Victorian women’s history and Christmas treats sounds like my kind of December afternoon and so we will start there, just after noon, the time of the museum opens on winter weekends then finish the Hydro Corridor and walk along the Highland Creek section of the Pan Am path until dusk.
Frances Tweedie Milne was born and raised on a farm in Whitby where she began keeping a diary in 1866, at the age of eighteen. In 1869, she married and moved to Scarborough with her husband, continuing to keep a record of her daily life. The exhibition includes her account of celebrating the first Dominion Day – Canada Day – after Canada achieved Confederation in 1867 by attending fireworks and military parades.
“Eventful Day Saw the eleph. go away, the Cavalry come in 9 a.m. Nick called at Campbells. We went to review. G. Rumsey came down to Hall with me. Went home, Em came to fireworks. Mack and I promenade around. Came home with Dave in new buggy.” — Diary of Frances Tweedie Milne, July 1, 1867
The museum imagines what Frances’s Facebook page might have looked like if she were alive today. Likes include the novels of Paul Clifford – the writer who coined the phrase “It was a dark and stormy night” – ice skating and the public library on St. Andrew’s Road.
The Scarborough museum is a collection of historic buildings from around the area that were brought together on the site of Thomson Settlement, which we visited near the end of our walk through the west and central sections of the Gatineau Hydro Corridor last time. The main house, Cornell house, belonged to a family of apple farmers and it’s decorated for Christmas in early 20th century style.
The log cabin, McCowan house, was located near the current site of the Toronto zoo, which we will be visiting in a future walk. It was the home of sheep farmer, William Porteous McCowan who emigrated from Scotland in 1833 and gave his name to one of Scarborough’s main roads.
Frances’s diary contains numerous references to dressing in tartan – in case the names of the settlers and the proximity of St. Andrew’s road and Highland Creek are not evidence enough that this community used to be more Scottish than Scotland. In the mid 19th century, much of the political elite in English Canada was of Scottish descent and Frances Tweedie Milne and her neighbours had every reason to display their heritage in their homes, clothing and celebrations.
After enjoying the hot apple cider and apple cinnamon muffins at the Scarborough museum, let’s continue east along the Gatineau Hydro Corridor. The hydro lines in the east end of the corridor look the same as they did in the west end that we visited last time but the terrain is very different. Instead of a flat prairie, there are rolling hills and you begin to understand why Elizabeth Simcoe was inspired in the 1790s to name the area Scarborough after the town in North Yorkshire.
The landscape is different at the east end of the Gatineau hydro corridor as well. Instead of vast expanses of browning grass that encourage visitors to cycle or walk though as quickly as possible, the east corridor is filled with community garden plots and meadow restoration projects that carpet the land with wildflowers in the Springtime. Here, visitors are encouraged to linger with only the signs prohibiting kite and model airplane flying reminding us that we are in a hydro corridor rather than a traditional park.
The east corridor ends near Military Trail, which used to be the only way to cross Highland Creek. The ravine surrounding the creek acted as a natural barrier to settlement further east just as the Don Valley, which we visited in a previous walk, inhibited the growth of the city before the building of The Prince Edward Viaduct.
A short walk through a Scarborough residential neighbourhood takes us to the entrance to Morningside Park at Lawrence Ave, which provides access to the Highland Creek ravine that we will explore in the next part of the walk.
Getting to the Scarborough museum by public transit: 54A Lawrence East bus eastbound to Brimley road
Further Reading: Much to Be Done: Private Life in Ontario From Victorian Diaries by Frances Hoffman and Ryan Taylor
Next: Highland Creek