Local History


The Port Union area is rich in history, here are some articles from various sources, about interesting sites, in and around our community, some of which remain to this date.

Excerpts from Scarborough Historical Society


Cameron Orchard, located at Centennial Rd and Clyde.

As we head into fall, we think of apples. In our community there remains one of the most beautiful apple orchards.

Not enough has been written about a fifty-acre farm on Centennial Road. The farm belongs to Cameron Watson, a long time resident of our community.

Beatrice and Cecil Watson originally bought the farm in 1921 from the Stanley Piano Company. Originally there were seven or eight acres of orchards that increased to thirty-five acres over the years. During the years of the depression apples were difficult to sell and the market didn’t improve until after the war. By 1969 production reached ten thousand bushels of number one grade apples and business was good thanks to a long term association with Dominion stores which started in 1947. Prosperity continued until 1970 when Mrs. Watson died.

Cameron was considered a joint owner when his mother died but his status was never registered legally. A costly legal battle followed and the Death Duty laws of 1970 forced the sale of the family farm except for the remaining four acre parcel where the house stood.

This information for this article was taken from a book called Fact and Folk Lore that was written by John R. Spilsbury who still lives in Highland Creek. I am advised that the book has recently been published again and is available at the Albion Book Store in Highland Creek Village. This book deals exclusively with West Hill, Highland Creek, Port Union and Hillside.

Johns-Manville, used to be located west of Port Union Rd. south of Lawrence.

Johns-Mansville before 1992

In May 1948, big industry came to Port Union on the historic Dixon farm land. For a relatively poor township, this was good news at the time. The company employed 350 people and created much needed tax dollars. When people complained of the linseed oil smell from the rock wool manufacturing process, a new 200 foot poured concrete smoke stack was built in 1949 to replace the 50 foot metal one. At the time, environment protection was a concern to Johns-Manville. The one million gallons of water used daily in manufacturing was returned to the lake purer than when they took it in. What Johns-Manville did was environmentally acceptable and within the limits of the legislation at the time they conducted their operations. They also exceeded government standards due to sophisticated emission and dust control procedures.

Johns-Manville supported many local community projects and had two soccer fields and a baseball diamond until only a few years ago.

The community was built on the former Annis farm and since much of the planning and construction took place in 1967, the community was named in honour of the 100th anniversary of Canada’s Confederation. The Charlottetown Conference gave the community, street and school its name. Other street names recognize several of Canada’s 1867 Fathers of Confederation: D’Arcy McGee, Samuel Tilley, J.C. Chapais, Ambrose Shea, Hector Langevin, Thomas Haviland, J. Cockburn, Charles Tupper, J. McCulley. Oliver Mowat was also recognized in the naming of the Collegiate Institute.

Centennial Road is often mistakenly associated with this street name program but despite the fact that the community was named in recognition of Canada’s Centennial, Centennial Road was actually named in recognition of the 100th anniversary of the death of John Wesley in 1891. Wesley founded the Weslayan Methodist Church and “Centennial” church at Kingston Road at Centennial Road was built in 1891. The church was named to honour its founder and Centennial Road named after the church.

Abstracted from Scribe, which is on the TDSB site.

Centennial Historical Names

Sir Charles Tupper

Tupper was a doctor, politician, Father of Confederation, and street in our neighbourhood just north of Mowat Collegiate. In 1843, he established a medical practice and drug store in his home town of Amherst, Nova Scotia. He entered politics in 1855 by unseating Joseph Howe. His political career saw the development of the railway, the Free School Act in Nova Scotia and Confederation. Tupper was the premier of Nova Scotia from 1864 to 1867 and the sixth prime minister of Canada serving for 69 days in 1896. He was the last surviving Father of Confederation and died in 1915 at age 94.

John Closson

Closson street, which runs north of Lawson and west of Centennial Rd., is named after the Closson family who were pioneer settlers in southeast Scarborough. John Closson came from the State of New York and he settled in Highland Creek in the early 1800s. John was a tanner and shoemaker by trade. His son, Stephen, served as one of the first Clerks of the Township from 1851 to 1854 and he operated a sawmill in Highland Creek.

Colonel Asa Danforth Jr.

In 1799, American entrepreneur Colonel Asa Danforth Jr. was granted the contract to build a road connecting the new town of York (Toronto) to Kingston through the virgin forests north of Lake Ontario. He was to be paid $90 per mile to oversee construction, but conflicts with the local administrators soon emerged. When Col. Danforth completed his road in December 1800, it was deemed substandard and he was never fully paid for the work. There was much controversy around American entrepreneurs exploiting opportunities to enrich themselves in Upper Canada. Danforth returned to the United States a bitter and bankrupt man. Danforth Road, Danforth Village and Danforth Ave. are named for Asa Danforth, Jr. Colonel Danforth Park is also named after him for his contribution to the “expansion of the Toronto road network.”

Thomas D’Arcy McGee

This street runs between Centennial Rd. and Conference Blvd. The correct spelling of the name is D’Arcy McGee after Thomas D’Arcy McGee, who was born in Ireland in 1825. After some time in the United States, McGee immigrated to Montreal in 1857. McGee was an outspoken critic of American institutions and of the American way of life. In 1858, he was elected to the Legislative Assembly of the Province of Canada and he advocated for the creation of an independent Canada. McGee became minister of agriculture, immigration and statistics in the Conservative government formed in 1863. He was a Canadian delegate to the Charlottetown and Quebec Conferences of 1864. Following the Confederation of Canada, McGee had lost much of his Irish Catholic support. On April 7, 1868, McGee was assassinated by a single shot to the neck from a handgun held by Patrick J. Whelan. There were conspiracy theorists who questioned Whelan’s guilt suggesting that he was a scapegoat for a Protestant plot. McGee was given a state funeral in Ottawa, which was known to be one of the largest funerals in Canadian history.

Thomas Heath Haviland

Haviland, which runs just east of Centennial Road south of Lawson, is named after Thomas Heath Haviland. He was born in Charlottetown, P.E.I., in 1822. A lawyer, politician, land owner, and lieutenant governor, Haviland was one of the Masonic Fathers of Confederation. A staunch supporter of Confederation, Haviland was quoted as saying ‘’the provinces would, ere long, be one great country or nation from the Atlantic to the Pacific.”

Sir Oliver Mowat

Our high school was named after Sir Oliver Mowat (1820 to 1903), a lawyer, politician and Liberal Party leader who served for nearly 24 years as the third premier of Ontario. He was the eighth Lieutenant Governor of this province and a Father of Confederation. Mowat was born in Kingston, trained as a lawyer in the law office of John A. Macdonald, then settled in Toronto. He entered politics as an alderman in 1857 and a year later became a member of the Legislative Assembly. Mowat was a member of the Great Coalition government of 1864, which brought Canada East and Canada West together. He was also at that year’s Quebec Conference where he helped work out the division of powers between the federal and provincial governments. As premier in the 1880s, he was involved in a series of disputes that decentralized Canada and gave the provinces far more power than Macdonald had intended.


Local Area

Morrish Store, located at Kingston Rd. and Meadowvale.

At the corner of Meadowvale and Old Kingston Road is a beautiful old building. This was the finest store in the district when it was built in 1890 and owned by William J. Morrish. William was the first surviving son of John Morrish, who was born in Ohio. At the time, Highland Creek was a farming community and the Morrish building provided space for living, sales and storage. The Morrish business included hardware, dry goods, boots, shoes, farm machinery and groceries with flour, sugar, tea and salt being a small part of the business.

By 1914, William Morrish installed a fuel pump when the automobile started to replace the horse as a means of transport. This was the only pump between Toronto and Whitby. Gas was 17 cents a gallon. The retailer profited by 3 cents.

William turned the business over to his sons, Roy and Charles. William Morrish died in 1924. Roy left to open his own business and Stuart and Florence with their 3 children moved in and ran the store until 1967.

During the depression merchants found it difficult since they often had to wait for two months for money and cash flow was difficult.

Rationing of sugar, tea, butter coffee and meat came after the war in 1939 and Sundays were spent sticking hundreds of ration stamps to gummed sheets.

To read an update about the fate of the Morrish store, click here..

Centennial Church, located at Kingston Rd, east of Meadowvale.

Situated on Kingston Road at the eastern end of Highland Creek is Centennial-Rouge United Church. The Gothic Revival style in church architecture, so prominent in Scarborough in the latter half of the 19th century is evident in this building.

Methodism is said to date back into the 18th century, prior to the American Revolution. John Wesley was primarily responsible for the formation of this religious group, but after his death in 1791, several groups seceded from the main body and formed other societies, including Primitive, Bible Christian and Wesley Methodist. In Highland Creek, two of these societies were established by the middle of the 19th century. Here the local Wesley’s erected a frame church and on the Scarborough-Pickering Town Line, near the Rouge Valley, the bible Christians arrested a large, stone edifice. Both served modest congregations until 1891 when it was decided to join the two. On land donated by the Knowles family, the combined congregation erected a new building.

To commemorate the centennial of the death of John Wesley, the new building was named the Centennial Methodist Church. In 1925 the congregation joined the United Church and the building now serves at the Centennial-Rouge United Church.

Highland Creek Village

This article is courtesy of Clancy Delbarre and was published in the CCRA for the Heritage Day Issue September 28, 1986. With Mr. Delbarre’s permission, I have brought the article up to date for Heritage Day. Dorothy Clieff

Highland Creek had its start shortly after Scarborough was first laid out and surveyed in 1793. More people began to settle in the area, land was cleared and roads were built to link up with other towns and villages.

Military Trail is a remnant of the first highway to be built in Scarborough in 1799 by Asa Danforth. It ran from King Street at the Don River through to Port Union. The original route can be traced today along Danforth Road, Painted Post, Military Trail and Colonel Danforth Road.

A second highway, Kingston Road, originally called Front Road was built in 1801 and ran from Markham Road through the valley and the Village.

In the early 1800’s the Village became identified as a distinct settlement. Some of the early pioneers in the area include Isaac Secord; John Closson whose son operated a sawmill on the Highland Creek; James and John Richardson who settled here in 1806; Samuel Heron whose name is commemorated by Heron Park; Jordan Post who built a sawmill and general store after arriving in 1834. William Helliwell who built a gristmill in the valley around 1850 and his descendants still live in Highland Creek. The homes on Scenic Hill Court are on the Helliwell property.

John Morrish arrived in 1855. W.J. Morrish built a store at Meadowvale and Kingston Road which today remains very much as originally built (a confidential report is to be submitted to the Corporate Services Committee Meeting on May 20/99 on the future of this building). Scarborough Township was incorporated in 1850 and had a total population of 3820 of which 250 resided in Highland Creek. By 1885 Highland Creek was the largest commercial center in all of Scarborough with 600 inhabitants and included several churches, a blacksmith, gristmill, sawmill and a number of other businesses. By 1896 Helliwell’s Chopping Mill and Cider Mill, a hotel, three stores, a blacksmith shop, three churches and a Mechanics Institute Library were flourishing.

The old Methodist cemetery in the Village dates back to the early 1800’s. St. Joseph’s Church built in 1854 and rebuilt in 1964 is the second oldest Catholic Church in Scarborough.

In 1852 Highland Creek became the site of the second post office to be built in Scarborough, amongst one of the earliest in all of Canada.

The library officially opened in 1890 and from various locations in the Village has served residents of the community. For a number of years after 1947 it was operated by one of the residents in her own home until a new library was constructed. The library moved from Kingston Road in the Village to its new location at 3550 Ellesmere Road in August 1994.

What is now the Private Eyes dates back to 1865 and has been known under various names throughout the years; Commercial Hotel, Maxwells, Running Pump, Foresters and the Marquis Tavern.

Highland Creek in 1867

This mural by John Hood recreates a scene showing members of the Highland Creek community working together to build an addition to the Wesley Methodist Chapel in the early winter of 1867. The chapel once stood adjacent to the mural site amongst the tombstones of the pioneer cemetery.

Highland Creek

Old Kingston Road

Although the Thomson family can arguably be considered the first family to settle in the old Township, and the first post office was opened at Scarborough Village, the first true ‘community’ to be established was at Highland Creek. The community originally stretched from the Pickering border west to Galloway Road. Prior to any settlement, Elizabeth Simcoe, in describing the Township of Glasgow (as Scarborough was first called), referred to the “high lands of Toronto”. The river flowing through the high land became known as the Highland Creek.

William Knowles emigrating from New Jersey in 1802, was forced to stop near what is now Grimsby where his wife gave birth to their eighth child. Knowles moved on ahead and in October, 1802 bought a 200 acre lot from Joseph Ketchum who had settled in the area of Highland Creek a few years earlier. Family stories handed down through the generations indicated that Knowles was expecting a house with the land but found only a roofless log shanty. His first days in Scarborough may well have been spent under the tall pines.

Knowles was a blacksmith and built the Township’s first smithy, making the nails for the first frame barn in Scarborough and planting one of the first orchards. His son, Daniel, kept the first store in Highland Creek, was a Commissioner for the straightening of Kingston Road in 1837 and was a prominent member of the Scarborough, Markham and Pickering Wharf Company which did an excellent business in shipping grain, timber and cord wood from Port Union to Oswego, New York and other Lake Ontario ports.

The combination of the Kingston Road, the old Danforth Road and the Highland Creek coming together in one location encouraged the village’s rapid growth in the early 19th century. Saw millers, grist millers, cobblers, merchants, coopers, tanners, blacksmiths, ship builders, and a host of other tradesmen helped build the community and in time it boasted churches from all major denominations including the first Roman Catholic Church (St. Joseph’s) and the first Anglican Church (St. Margaret’s) in Scarborough.

The community’s first school serving what was then known as School Section # 7, was erected in 1844 on the west side of the Highland Creek Valley, but a new, larger frame school was erected in the valley in 1870. As the community grew after the turn of the century, a new brick school was built in 1918 and became known as Highland Creek Public School. As of 2003, it was still standing, as one of the oldest school buildings in Scarborough still in use as a regular public school.

Port Union / West Rouge

General Store and Post Office

Port Union was also part of the Highland Creek community. (Although most of the buildings were across the Town Line in Pickering.) Port Union was located in the south east corner of Scarborough, at Lawrence Avenue and Port Union Road. In 1865 a post office opened in Port Union Station. Early 19th century businesses in the area included the Scarborough, Markham, and Pickering Wharf Company (est. 1847), and hotels operated by Will Hetherington and Thomas Laskey.

The West Rouge community, a modern name associated with Port Union, was originally part of Pickering. Scarborough annexed the West Rouge in 1973 following several years of negotiations. There were concerns about meshing taxation and other costs to the municipality that had to be addressed following the initial annexation discussions in 1969. The West Rouge was east of the town line and west of the Rouge River containing 857 acres and a population of 3,414 at the time of annexation.

Halfway Hotel

Halfway House Hotel

For the end of the year I think that it is important to focus on one of the most significant buildings in Scarborough’s history.Black Creek Pioneer Village – the hotel This is the Halfway House. It stood midway between Pickering and Toronto, at what is now Midland Avenue and Kingston Road. The Mortlake Post Office, which opened in 1865, was located in the Hotel. The post office was short-lived and when Scarborough Junction was established in the 1870’s the name was soon forgotten. After the hotel business waned, large rooms upstairs in the former hotel served as a classroom, church and community meeting hall while the main floor was converted to commercial use.

Although the community now carries the name Cliffside, the Halfway House Hotel was not forgotten. Having served Scarborough for more than a century, the building was dismantled in 1962, moved, and rebuilt as the focal point of the Black Creek Pioneer Village. At that time, the frame building had seen better times and rather that see the building demolished, it was relocated. Today, a walk through the door of the hotel at Black Creek, is like a step back in time. Consider visiting the Village over the holiday season to experience what it was like in 19th century Scarborough.


Picture Exchange

We are looking for old photos of this neighbourhood, if you happen to have any picture of archival nature, we’ll be happy to post it. Please send your picture to webmaster@ccranews.com