Jim Sanderson

Bluffer's Park Journal ~ T.S.A.R. HOOLA ONE , & A GREENER FUTURE - Volunteers Benefit the Park October 2022 Edition

By Jim Sanderson

During summers in the 1950’s and 60’s, in a house on the Toronto Island that had no computers, cell phones, Internet, or even a television, my family and I were always aware of the natural world. This appreciation included special notice of the seasons, and every year in August our father would look up at the sky and remark “Autumn’s around the corner now, time to be extra careful on the water”. Sure enough, the weather soon grew cooler and the winds stronger, causing bigger waves to crash into the seawall out front. Years later, I see the waters off Bluffer’s Park change the same way, and remember how important safety is, as summer draws to a close. In the past, there were fewer options for boaters in distress on the Lake. The Harbour Commission Police, known in the 1950’s and ’60’s as “The Harbies”, and the Ashbridge’s Bay Coast Guard Detachment, which is no longer in operation, were the only official first responders on the water. Many accidents were attended by nearby boaters who saw something going wrong. This on-water fraternitiy saved a lot of lives through the years and continues to do so, but these days, other options are available. In addition to The Toronto Police Marine Unit, which regularly patrols the Toronto waterfront, including Bluffer’s Park, commercial enterprises summoned by cell phone will come out and start your engine, or tow you to safety. Another important organization is a volunteer service called T.S.A.R. which provides free tows and rescues to boaters off the GTA shores. Started in 2012 by Patrick Curtis and some other like minded people, the primary mission of this group is to assist people in distress, prevent loss of life, and damage to property. They maintain an enhanced rescue boat with a trained crew who are on call 24 x7 throughout the summer and early fall. Based in the Outer Harbour Marina, they conduct patrols on weekends and holidays all the way from the Scarborough Bluffs to Port Credit. In 2021 they completed 16 rescues and saved close to 40 people. In 2022, their rescues increased about 70%. The organization has plans to expand from 18 volunteers this year to 30 in 2023, and has already started fundraising for another vessel. They also provide onshore youth programs, offering water safety presentations in camps and schools. T.S.A.R. relies on donations, so if you are inclined to support this important group of lifesavers, go to www.torontosearchandrescue.com, or visit their page on Facebook.

But T.S.A.R. volunteers are not the only folks whose work benefits Bluffers Park. On the morning of Friday Sep 16’th, no less than three organizations got together to stage a cleanup of the eastern beach and surrounding area. This event was co-ordinated by “A Greener Future”, (www.agreenerfuture.ca), a non-profit dedicated to connecting community and corporate volunteers and remove waste from the environment. According to founder Rochelle Byrne, A Greener Future stages projects, then sorts items that are collected, disposes them in the best ways possible, and compiles data to inform corporations and government agencies. Since 2014, they have picked up more than 4 million pieces of litter, but they are especially focused on plastic pollution in the Great Lakes. For the event on September 16’th they partnered with Shisheido Cosmetics who bussed in more than 100 workers and friends to collect trash. Thank you Shisheido! About 10:30 AM I saw the results of their efforts: mounds of cups, bags and other debris being sorted for recycling and disposal. A third participant in this event, who often work with A Greener Future, was Hoola One. This organization was founded by 12 graduates of the Mechanical Engineering program at Sherbrooke University in 2015. They designed and built a system that sifts through sand and soil and separates all kinds of plastics for recycling. The group later developed other systems, small enough to be worn in a backpack so a worker can use vacuum and rotary brush technologies to extract plastics from a wider variety of locations.

One of Hoola’s prime targets for removal are called Nurdles. If you’ve never heard of these things, don’t worry, I hadn’t either. They are tiny plastic pellets, smaller than 5 mm, that are building blocks for many items used in everyday life: water bottles, bags, all kinds of packaging and containers. They are composed primarily of polyethylene, polypropylene and other resins, and are not at all good for the environment. They find their way into natural ecosystems during manufacturing and transport spills, sometimes even after being recycled, and break down very slowly in soil and watersheds in processes that take hundreds, sometimes even thousands, of years. But before they do, they are often ingested by all kinds of animals, including humans. This disturbing situation raises the observation of environmentalist David Suzuki:

“The most intimate relationship one organism can have with another, is to eat it.”

It’s pretty clear that the sooner we can rid the environment of pollutants like Nurdles

the better we all will be. With this in mind, we can be grateful for organizations like Shishedo,

A Greener Future, and Hoola One who are working along shorelines, and for T.S.A.R. volunteers who are out on the water, all helping to keep Bluffer’s Park, and many other places,

clean and safe.  

~ 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

Bluffer's Park Journal ~ Park Well Used in Summer of '22     September 2022 Edition

A wrecked boat on the rocks just outside the Marina entrance and construction work has started on Brimley Rd. South

By Jim Sanderson

In July and August 2022, summer returned to Bluffer’s Park in full form. Record crowds attended the beach and were overseen by lifeguards on their stands on the shore, and in life boats on the water. On sunny afternoons, especially on weekends, the beach and parklands were crowded with sunbathers and picnickers, the parking lots full.

Visitors also saw changes to the park landscape. Orange stanchions now separate pedestrians from traffic on the bottom half of the Brimley hill, and heavy equipment has been moved in to start the redesign of the road, the lighting system and the addition of bike lanes, a project that has traffic restricted to a single lane and is expected to take 6 to 8 weeks. Bluffers Beach has been modified by a mound of sand aimed at keeping bathers away from the western shore rocks, where dangerous undercurrents can occur when the wind blows up from the southeast.

On a trip to the beach one Saturday afternoon in mid-August, I encountered people of every age and description, some throwing frisbees or kicking soccer balls, others lounging on towels or folding chairs and listening to music of all kinds. In almost every picnic site beside the beach, cooks were preparing food from around the world: jerk chicken, souvlaki skewers, curried stew, and of course, hamburgers and hot dogs. Near some sites, the smells of barbeque mixed with unusual aromatic smoke, lent the impression I had stumbled into a giant, cosmopolitan beach party.

In the neighbouring yacht clubs, captains and crew were back on the water as in pre-pandemic years, sailing schools and race programs in full swing. At the Marina, the Bluffer’s restaurant and Curbside Dogs lunch counter were open for business, and in the parking lots the Tasty Treat food trucks served long lines of customers.

In addition to these usual scenes, there have been other activities. In July and August, scenes for two projects were filmed on the waters off Bluffer’s beach. You are SO not invited to My Bar Mitzvah is a feature starring Adam Sandler and his wife Jackie, both big fans of Toronto, according to social media. UTAP is a series for the small screen about an aging CIA Agent and his daughter who (what else?) have to save the world. This show stars newcomer Monica Barbaro, and Mr. CIA himself, Arnold Schwarzenegger. Both shoots, just a few days each, were based in the yacht clubs where the crew could store their gear, and launch their camera boats and stunt craft.

Of course the summer months of 2022 have seen a few mishaps. In mid-August a Bayliner yacht about 22 feet long lost power off the lighthouse in rough seas, and was swept onto the rocks, where, as of publication, it remains. It is believed that no serious injuries were sustained in the accident, but it again raised the issue of safety on park waters where rescue boats are at least an hour from the closest station, the Toronto Police Marine Unit at the foot of York Street.

In July, the unit responded to over 19 calls in the Bluffers Park area ranging from marina checks to vessel complaints, vessel assists and rescues, lake searches for missing persons, and incidents involving criminal activity, some of which resulted in arrests and charges.

By August 23, they had responded to over 11 calls for service in that month for marina checks, complaint investigations, rescue calls, and abandoned vessels. These calls were a marked increase in the on-water police presence over the last few years, an increase that yacht club Commodores, Marina managers, and boaters in general have been happy to see.

In the meantime, as the summer of ’22 winds down, let’s hope for continued safety in September and October, when the park will prepare for winter again.  

~ 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

Bluffer's Park Journal ~ Feathered Friends in the Park     July/August 2022 Edition

By Jim Sanderson

Now that summer has arrived, the transformation of the Scarborough Bluffs from a landscape of snow and ice into one of leafy forests and green grass is well under way. Visitors to Bluffer’s Park, human and otherwise, are enjoying it as a playground, a resting place, and sometimes a home. One important group of inhabitants in the park are the many species of birds that populate it and the surrounding Bluffs. At this time of year, when the days are longer and warmer, it is especially pleasing to enjoy their colourful plumages and musical calls.

One flock that is conspicuous in spring and early summer are the Red-winged Blackbirds that frequent the cattails near Bluffer’s Park beach. Their distinctive calls and bright red wing accents make them easy to recognize. Other feathered friends that call the place home are well known and easy to spot are geese, cardinals, mallards, teals, mourning doves, swans, chickadees, Blue Jays and of course, seagulls.

Some species seen in spring are just passing through, migrating to central or northern Ontario, or even the subarctic. These include insect eaters like swallows, swifts, and nighthawks, shore dwellers like sandpipers, and big predators like eagles and hawks, all on their way to feed and mate in warm northern forests and coastlines. Some of these migrators are world class travelers. Broad-winged Hawks summer in Central Ontario after flying up from South America. Ruby-throated Hummingbirds come from Central America, and Blackpoll Warblers from the southern Caribbean. A few of these long-distance flyers move amazingly fast. In 2018 a tracking system known as Motus (www.motus.com), which relies on a network of stationary towers to detect nanosensors attached by researchers to birds and bats, identified a Semipalmated Plover flying over the Toronto Zoo. It had been flagged just 24 hours earlier in Churchill Manitoba, and the evening after it left the GTA, was identified on the Bay of Fundy, 1200 km east!

 

Like so many pastimes these days, the study of birds has been enhanced by the Internet and new technologies. There are many apps and websites to help even inexperienced observers identify species by their appearances or songs. One good source of information is the home page of the Toronto Ornithological Club, www.birding.ca. It is packed with facts about the flight paths, diets, and mating habits of birds across the GTA. It also contains descriptions of conservation programs, upcoming expeditions, and a Q&A section that offers expert advice: what to do if you find a dead or injured bird, which species are common and rare in Toronto, and birding hotspots. Birdingpal.com is a site that allows people to communicate with experts all over the world and even arrange to meet and hike with them. Xeno-canto.org. is a collection of sighting lists, song libraries, and bird populations, in countries around the world. For pointy-headed birders, it also contains scholarly articles like Dialects of the Cetti’s Warbler, by Daniel Parker, and Vocal Repertoires of Drymophila Antbirds, by Jeremy Minns.

At its core, this is an activity enjoyed by people in the field. I have approached few of themin Bluffer’s Park, easy to identify by their floppy hats, hiking shoes, and binoculars and cameras around their necks. I have found them not only to be great admirers of birds and the natural world in general, but eager to share their enthusiasm. Approaches to the pastime vary, but at a basic level, it includes ‘life lists’ of species observed and locations visited. More avid birders keep audio recordings, pictures of species they have seen, and mating and habitat notes.

Over the past few years, through encounters with birders, and reading about their hobby on the internet, I have acquired an increased understanding of this group. In many ways they are leadersin the appreciation of the value of green spaces and the need for harmony between humans andnatural world; beliefs that have been held by First Nations people for centuries and are now so important to us all.

~ 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

Bluffer's Park Journal ~ Harbours and Heroes     June 2022 Edition

By Jim Sanderson

Now that summer is around the corner and COVID restrictions have been eased, activity in Bluffer’s Park is ramping up to pre-pandemic levels. Warm weekends in May are already looking like the old days: bus number 175 is making regular runs, police are restricting traffic at the top of the Brimley hill, and lines of visitors and cyclists returned to the narrow shoulders of the old road. On the water, all kinds of sailboats, paddle boards, jet-skis and other craft can be seen bobbing around. This increased marine activity raises an issue that many park stakeholders know well–safety.

Sadly, the park has been no stranger to accidents on the water in the past few years. Collisions, carelessness, impaired driving, and equipment failures, the usual causes of trouble in boating communities, have all happened. One safety issue around the shores of all great lakes in the spring is water temperature. These bodies of water are so large, they remain cold through May and June, even when the air is hot. Inexperienced boaters may not realize they warm up on their own schedules. This is especially true of Lake Ontario which is one of the southernmost and deepest Great Lakes at more than 800 feet. These features make it subject to upwellings of cold water as late as July.

At the launch ramp a few weeks ago, a family of 5 that headed out on a Saturday afternoon with no lifejackets was probably unaware that their 12-foot inflatable, not much more than an air mattress with sides and no motor, was the only thing protecting them from unconsciousness in less than 60 minutes in 45-degree water. This is disconcerting, since the closest first-response team, the Toronto Police Marine Unit on Queen’s Quay, is about an hour away–maybe more.

In recent years, many mishaps on the waters off the park have been handled by quick thinking sailors or fishermen, sometimes in heroic actions. People who see something wrong from the shore or their boat almost always help out immediately, and often save lives. This unwritten code of assistance applies to sailors pretty well everywhere. A good friend of mine with a boat in Bronte Harbour was rewarded with a plaque from the Mayor of Oakville after pulling no fewer than 14 people from the lake over a period of years, though two of those he rescued did not survive.

According to experienced boaters in Bluffer’s Park, the Toronto Police Marine Unit might consider increasing its presence in the area this year. A Commodore at one yacht club, who has been involved in several rescues, told me that he and his colleagues would like to see increased patrols off park shores and maybe a staff member in the substation overlooking the launch ramps on busy days. This could be more an advisory role than one of enforcement, he told me, to counsel people about risky vessels, faulty equipment, or dangerous conditions. The Commodore and his counterparts are grateful to the Toronto Police service and other agencies for their work to keep the waters of Bluffer’s Park orderly and relatively safe up to now, but the summer of ’22 might just be a good time to step them up.

~ 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    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