Centennial Park Plaza mural honour’s Port Union’s past more

The Port Union Village section of the mural

A Brief History of Port Union

By Don Allen, President, Scarborough Historical Society/Archives

1808 Tommy Adams settled in the area and began a fishing and small ship building business. Adams Park is named in recognition of him.

1812 Americans invaded Canada and several Canadian ships took refuge in the mouth of the Highland Creek and Rouge River, throwing heavy objects (guns, brass kettles etc) overboard to raise the ship’s hull in the shallow waters. A British payship containing 38,000 pounds sterling took shelter there as well. Despite many “treasure hunters”, nothing of value has ever been found.

1847 Since Markham had no lake access and the bluffs prohibited easy access to Scarborough’s lakeshore, a union of the two, plus Pickering, was formed by William Helliwell, Wil Hetherington and Daniel Knowles establishing the Scarborough, Markham and Pickering Wharf company. The company opened a shipping port with the wharf extending over 250’ into the lake. Thus Port Union was formally established with trade across the lake to Oswego, New York. The wharf and a large ship are depicted in the mural.

1852 Andrew Annis built a fine stone house (depicted in the north area of the mural). The house eventually became a branch of the Bank of Montreal and stood near the east end of what is now the local plaza.

1856 The Grand Trunk Railway (centre of the mural) was built along the shore of Lake Ontario and Port Union became a major commercial centre with both rail and shipping options. Hetherington built a hotel nearby and other businesses such as a blacksmith and cooper (barrel making) were established. (Stone) hookers also were found in the area. This illegal business saw men drag the lake bed at night, hooking large stones for use in the building of foundations for many structures in the community, as well as Toronto.

1860 A second hotel (depicted in the mural beside Annis’ stone house) was built near the railway station and operated by Thomas Laskey. It later became a private residence and was located where the Port Union Commons washrooms are located today.

1865 The railway and shipping businesses at Port Union peaked in 1865 with a permanent population of over 100 residents and as many as 300 on any given business day. The growing community was granted its own post office, which survived until 1934.

1895 A massive storm severely damaged the wharf and with shipping losing more of its business to the railway, the Wharf Company closed and the community gradually declined over the next fifty years.

1948 Johns-Manville took advantage of the railway access and built its massive plant overlooking the lake and employing hundreds of local residents. It was later closed due to health issues with its asbestos production.

1974 Port Union and the West Rouge communities joined Scarborough and the old Port Union community slowly disappeared. The Annis house and railway station were demolished and Laskey’s Hotel was gutted by fire in 1998.