By Kathryn Stocks
In October, we visited the Scarborough Archives and Historical Research Centre on Kingston Rd. at Meadowvale. Archivist Rick Schofield told us dozens of stories about the history of Scarborough, a topic he has been researching for over 50 years. Here is a little of what we learned.
The Scarborough Historical Society led the fight to save the old Morrish store, and in 2000 the property was expropriated by the city. From 2003 to 2005, the city brought the vacant, vandalized building up to code, then the historical society restored the interior.
Historical society volunteers stripped wallpaper, and repaired and painted all the walls, ceilings and doors to match their original colours. They also refinished the wood floors.
The beautifully renovated building, which was one of the largest general stores in the township, opened on August 10, 2007, as the Scarborough Archives and Historical Research Centre.
The former store area on the first floor is now the primary research room housing a large collection of heritage-related books, elementary school textbooks from the 1800s to 1967, some municipal files and an extensive collection of Scarborough photographs.
Upstairs, the former bedrooms now store school collections from the Scarborough Board of Education from 1954 to 2000, the Scarborough Mirror newspaper from 1985 until it stopped printing last month, documents from Scarborough’s history, and genealogical files. Education items like old school trophies, banners and school records are here but there are no student records.
In the basement, they have the storage of Toronto newspapers from 1880 to 1949 (including The Toronto World, Daily News, Toronto Mail, Mail and Empire, Globe and Mail and the Toronto Daily Star), and many private collections.
Visitors can research almost any aspect of the old Township of Scarborough’s history, read original bound newspapers, search family histories, browse through rare books and historical written materials or look through more than 8,000 images of Scarborough’s past.
The Archives, which are operated by the Scarborough Historical Society, are open Thursday evenings from 7 to 9 p.m., and by appointment on other days. You can call 416-995-6930 to arrange a daytime appointment.
How Centennial Came To Be
Rick explained that the Centennial community was originally part of Highland Creek. Historically, Highland Creek stretched from Galloway Rd. all the way to Port Union Rd. and from what is now Highway 401 to the lake.
In 1879, the area was split in half at the Highland Creek River and everything on the west side became West Hill and everything on the east side remained Highland Creek. It stayed that way until after World War II.
“Before the Second World War it was a very rural community around here,” Rick said. “After the war, they started breaking up all of the communities into smaller groups with a community organization that could look after things.”
That was how the Centennial community came to be. Our community association was started in 1949.
Early Days of Port Union
Port Union was also part of Highland Creek, although most of the buildings except for one hotel and one house were across the Town Line in Pickering. In the mid-1800s, the Scarborough, Markham and Pickering Wharf Company (established in 1847) built a long pier into the lake where ships would dock. Every farmer around Scarborough had to ship their grain elsewhere in order to make money, so they would come by horse and wagon down to Port Union where they would unload their crops for ships to take across the lake to Oswego, N.Y.
The ships would bring back stoves, metal and iron. “That was the trade,” Rick said. “They provided us with the materials we needed to cook with and we provided them with food. That went on for years.” Some of the company’s original account books can be found in the Archives.
Archives are fascinating for all the information and stories they hold, but since they’re not that interesting until you read them, the centre does have a number of artifacts that add visual appeal to the rooms, including a buffet donated by Bill Dempsey, an old wood-burning stove, and old photos on the walls, including W.J. Morrish, his wife Amelia, and their eight children.