Jim Sanderson

Bluffers Park Journal    Sailing Programs Ramp Up in 2022       May 2022

Galen Richardson & Madeleine Gillis Far right and racing their Nacra above

By Jim Sanderson

Now that Spring has arrived, the boating communities in Bluffers Park are preparing for another season. So far, the summer of ’22 is looking better than the last two, with COVID rules eased and people more comfortable getting together.

Along with spring launch weekends, held in late April, the usual activities will begin: dock and yard clean ups, clubhouse openings, sailing schools, and other programs. Once the pastime of a fortunate few, sailing has become a fun activity that is accessible to more people than in the past. Some clubs in the park and around the GTA offer the use of communal boats to all members, as long as they demonstrate basic handling skills. Other clubs have volunteer crewing programs that enable people to get out on the water, whether they own a boat or not. For those wishing to learn the ropes, there are several training schools. In addition to these programs, races will begin in June, weekly competitions usually held in the early evenings.

But special programs and amateur races are not the only boating activities of interest in Bluffer’s Park. During the past few years, a local sailor has risen steadily through the ranks of international competition and is getting close to the top. Cliffcrest resident Galen Richardson has been sailing for most of his life, and now he’s pretty good at it. After starting in the Junior Club of the Royal Canadian Yacht Club, he began racing small boats as a boy, then graduated to larger and faster vessels known as 29ers and 49ers, used in Worldwide and Olympic competitions.

A graduate of the Birchmount Exceptional Athlete Program and now a member of the Queens University Sailing team, Richardson has recently been competing in a new kind of sailboats known as Hydrofoils. These amazing boats come in various shapes and sizes, but are characterized by wing like platforms or ‘foils’, mounted on struts attached to the bottom of the hull. These cause the vessel to rise out of the water at a certain speed so it is supported only by two, three, or four small platforms under the waves, resulting in decreased drag and increased speed. This revolutionary design has enabled the largest of these boats to achieve astonishing speeds of more than 100 km per hour, or 50 knots, powered only by the wind! In addition to their Hydrofoil advantage, they are often equipped with video cameras that are used in conjunction with special headsets worn by skipper and crew. These electronic tools enable them to communicate with each other and their coaches during training runs, though they are not normally allowed in competition.

Richardson’s first Hydrofoil was a Waszp, in which he became the Canadian National champion in 2021. He has recently graduated to Nacra, a 17 foot, 2 person catamaran (2 hulls) which, in major competitions like the Olympics, must be sailed by a male and a female.

In February of this year, Richardson and his boating partner Madeleine Gillis placed an impressive seventh in the North American Championships, competing against top sailors from around the world. This showing in San Francisco led to an internship with SailGP for Galen, a program that provides pathways for young people to learn about, and race, even larger and more complex championship boats. An honorary member of Scarborough Bluffs Sailing Club, Galen and his boating partner plan to take their Nacra on some practice runs in the waters off Bluffer’s Park around the end of April, so visitors may get to see this remarkable vessel in action.

These, and other training sessions, will help prepare the team for the World championships later this summer in St. Margaret’s Bay, Nova Scotia, where more than 400 of the world’s best sailors will compete in 3 different classes. Good luck guys! And to all you other hikers, picnickers, birders, surfers, and sailors in Bluffer’s Park–Happy Spring!

~ Jim Sanderson is the author of “Life in Balmy Beach”, and “Toronto Island Summers”, available on Amazon, Indigo, and at Cliffside Village Books, 2404 Kingston Road,
647-827-9199

Bluffers Park Journal    Another Look Back - The Last 100 Years;       April 2022

In this edition of The Journal we’ll take another look at the history of Bluffers Park, this time at the last hundred years; a period in which the Toronto landmark underwent some changes, but retained its character and natural beauty.

In the first half of the 20th century, the areas surrounding the bluffs were still largely rural. They were home to families who were often descendants of people from the British Isles. Victoria Park Avenue was the eastern boundary of the city of Toronto, and lands east of that (to the Rouge River) were designated as Scarborough Township. The area did not become a Borough, a status that would tie it closer to Toronto, until 1967. Like many other parts of Southern Ontario, Scarborough grew up as a collection of communities connected by rural roads. There were clusters of stores like butcher shops, dairies, green grocers, and hardware stores. Gas stations were often located on the sites of livery stables that had been built in the pre-automobile era. The remnants of these early centres are neighbourhood names we recognize today: Birch Cliff, Agincourt, Armadale, Brown’s Corners, Highland Creek, and Wexford.

At the end of the Second World War with soldiers returning home and ready to start families and people moving to Canada from all over Europe, houses sprang up in Scarborough–many of them modest and selling for $ 2500 – 5,000 dollars. During these developments, the bluffs remained much the same as they had for centuries. They were tall clay cliffs with narrow beaches below, accessed only by steep footpaths and a couple of winding roads. In the 1960s, the Brimley Road hill, which looked almost exactly as it does today, was frequented by teenagers on their ways to bonfire parties on the eastern beach on Saturday nights. At the bottom of the hill, a narrow road ran under the edge of the bluffs to a yellow and black wooden barrier and a small sign that stated simply “End of the Road”.

This began to change when the Toronto Conservation Authority was asked to create a plan for the shoreline at the bottom of the Brimley hill and transform it into a waterfront park. This was implemented in two stages. Phase 1 was completed in 1975 for $ 2.2 million dollars after 2.6 million metric metres of fill from demolished buildings and subway tunnels were dumped into the shallow waters along the shore. Phase 2 was completed in the early 80s for $ 6 million, including the construction of public launch ramps and washrooms and sites for yacht clubs and a marina. It became the landscape we know today.

These improvements were timely, because Toronto (including its suburbs) was changing fast. Drawn by perceptions of Toronto being a stable and pleasant place to live, people moved to the area from around the globe, and soon made Scarborough the second most diverse population in the world after Miami. Today, after a 2 year pandemic and the alarming appearance of war in Europe, the park remains a soothing place to visit and savour the natural world. On a spring afternoon on my way out to the lighthouse I usually encounter hikers, families, and couples of many nationalities, all enjoying the sun after another Canadian winter. It is a sight that surely would have made the creators of Bluffer’s Park proud.

~ Jim Sanderson is the author of “Life in Balmy Beach”, and “Toronto Island Summers”, available on Amazon, Indigo, and at Cliffside Village Books, 2404 Kingston Road,
647-827-9199

Bluffers Park Journal    March 2022

Another Look Back

In this edition of The Journal we’ll take another look at the history of Bluffers Park and south Scarborough, this time from the arrival of Europeans to the early 20th century.

It is generally accepted that the first foreigners to paddle along the north shore of Lake Ontario were Fur Traders and Missionaries on their ways to and from settlements at the mouths of the Rouge and Humber rivers in the early 1600s. These villages had long been embarkation points used by Indigenous people travelling to and from Lakes Simcoe, Huron, and Georgian Bay.


French visitors to the area were names familiar from high school history class: Hennepin, Jonquiere, La Salle, and the famed Etienne Brule. A sergeant and interpreter for Samuel Champlain, Brule travelled south from Lake Simcoe down the Humber river corridor in 1615, which probably made him the first European to see Lake Ontario, a distinction less important today than it was in the 20’th century. The camp’s name, Tarantou, “Place of Meeting” is attributed to Chief DaArontal of the Hurons, who occupied the Humber river area at the time. Variations of this name, later to become Toronto, appeared on maps in the 1650s.

Realizing the importance of this trade route, the French built Fort Rouille nearby at the present day foot of Dufferin Street, but burned it down in 1759 after threats from the British and their Mohawk allies. Later in the 1700s the “Toronto Purchase” was negotiated between the British Crown and the Wendat Huron, though this treaty did not cover lands as far east as Scarborough. Despite this, settlers from Europe, many from Scotland, began to arrive and build cabins in the forests near the old lake Iroquois shore. In 1791, surveyor Augustus Jones and his axe men built a cabin on the bluffs where the Guild Inn was later located. By this time, the area was known as Glasgow, until it was renamed by Lady Simcoe after the high bluffs near her home in Scarborough, England, and American builder Asa Danforth was already mapping “The Front Road” along a path closely followed by Kingston Road today.

Some natural harbours on the northwest shore of Lake Ontario were early shipbuilding centres. In 1834, Thomas Adams, a Captain in the war of 1812, built the sailing freighter ‘Mary Ann’ in a yard near the mouth of Highland Creek. She would become a familiar sight along the bluffs, taking ashes, grain, hides, and wooden shingles into Toronto and returning with dry goods, flour, salt, lime, and tea. Of course, the Bluffer’s Park area was not much different from other sections of the Lake Ontario coastline in those days; the park as we know it would not be constructed until the 1970s.

By 1850, more settlers had arrived in the area: McCowan, Annis, Glendenning, Jones, Hamilton, and Cornell, some of whose descendants still live in Scarborough today. Also, the Canadian government’s shameful treatment of First Nation people was well underway, a grim period in which the Wendat and other tribes were forced onto reservations, and their children confined in horrible residential schools, a disturbing period that resonates to this day.

By the end of the 1800s, though Scarborough was still predominantly farmland, a few summer homes belonging to wealthy Torontonians sprang up along the bluffs. Department store magnate Timothy Eaton owned a frame cottage on the south side of Sunnypoint Crescent, overlooking today’s Bluffer’s Park beach. In the first years of the 20th century, streelighting was constructed on the main roads of South Scarborough and later extended to West Hill. In Europe, the balance of power was growing increasingly unstable, and soon, young men from Scarborough, like many other Canadians, were fighting alongside British troops in Flanders in “The War to End All Wars. “A name we used”, one wry old Veteran would later comment, “before we grew smart enough to number them.”

When that conflict ended in 1918, soldiers returned to their homes in an area that was still mostly farmlands and woodlots, but change was in the air. How could they know that in the next 100 years, from humble roots in First Nation Lodges and Settler cabins, Scarborough would grow to become the vibrant multicultural giant it is today?

Jim Sanderson is the author of “Life in Balmy Beach”, and “Toronto Island Summers”, availableon Amazon, Indigo, and at Cliffside Village Books, 2404 Kingston Road, 647-827-9199  

Bluffers Park Journal February 2022

A Look Back in Time

The Natural Beauty of the Bluffs; A tourism and filmaking hotspot and work in progress for the past 12,000 years

By Jim Sanderson

When it comes to natural landmarks, it seems the larger and more dramatic they are, the greater their ability is to inspire us with awe. The majestic Bluffs of Scarborough, one of Toronto’s most notable physical features, do just that, attracting local residents, people from across the GTA, and even around the world.

On my visits to the Bluffs, in the vicinity of which I am fortunate to live, I too am moved by their heights and commanding views of the lake and shorelines; landscapes that change with the seasons and never seem to grow old.

These visits often prompt me to wonder about the history of the place: its geology, original inhabitants, and the people who settled the area more recently from lands far away. Except for a few buildings and some areas of erosion, the giant walls of clay and the forests of birch, poplar and sumac surely look much today as they did hundreds of years ago.

The natural beginnings of Bluffers Park are the stuff of high school geography—Lake Iroquois, the giant mother of Lake Ontario, was formed about 12,000 years ago when the waters of a melting glacier were dammed by ice barriers across the channel flowing into the St Lawrence river. Much larger, and about 100 meters deeper than Lake Ontario is today, the ancient lake’s shoreline is still easily seen in Toronto. It is defined by the Bluffs that run west from the Rouge river to the Beach district, then become a high ridge that runs northwest and across the Don valley to the heights of land above Dupont and Davenport roads.

As local writer Jane Fairburn describes in her excellent book, ‘Along the Shore’, many parts of the old Iroquois shoreline and the parks below it are “…the natural world in an urban landscape. There is still a spirit alive in this land that wanders the ravines, woodlands and waterways that lead down to, and along the shore.”

The very first inhabitants of the bluffs and the Toronto area are known as “Lithic People”, Paleolithic hunter gatherers who resided here for least 10,000 years before transitioning to organized woodland farming communities about 1500 years ago. The Woodland Iroquoians were actually a group of several tribes who spoke a common family of languages. Most of them cultivated corn, beans, and squash—the three sisters—along with other crops, and lived off the land, often in longhouse settlements that were relocated when neighbours grew nasty or supplies of firewood and healthy soil grew scarce.

Evidence of both the Paleo and Woodland peoples has been unearthed by settlers for years, but accelerated in the 19th and 20th centuries. Notable are objects in the McCowan Collection: pottery, arrow and spear heads uncovered by plowing and digging on the farms of one of the first Scottish families who came to the area in the 1830s and some of whose descendants are good friends of mine today. Artifacts like these, and studies by archaeologists from the University of Toronto, indicate there were First Nation communities all around Scarborough. They were located near present day Bellamy road north of Lawrence Avenue, near Brimley Road and Lawrence, and beside Staines road, south of Sheppard Avenue. There were also settlements closer to the Lake. Waterfront locations provided ready access to fish and game birds, easier trade and travel, and a milder climate. Well known villages were Ganatsekwyagon near the mouth of the Rouge River, and to the west, Teiaiagon at the mouth of the Humber.

With these larger sites in mind, it is not a stretch to imagine smaller, temporary settlements along the Bluffs, perhaps at bottom of the Brimley ravine, or the Doris McCarthy Trail, or even on the high promontory at the south end of Eastville Avenue that provides commanding views of the shorelines of Lake Ontario. While there is uncertainty about the dates Europeans first arrived in the Toronto area, it is generally agreed this happened in the mid 1600s. Could it be the original inhabitants of Southern Scarborough saw these canoes approach from their settlements on the beaches or atop the bluffs? And if so, what were they thinking?

In a later edition of The Journal we’ll explore the next phase in the history of this area, an era that changed the lives of its original inhabitants, and the European Settlers who came here from lands far away.
~ Jim Sanderson is the author of “Life in Balmy Beach”, and “Toronto Island Summers”, available on Amazon, Indigo, and at Cliffside Village Books, 2404 Kingston Road, 647-827-9199