The Scarborough Bluffs
by Lee Graves
Ten communities fronting Lake Ontario, make up the area known as the “Bluffs” in south west Scarborough. Each has its own character and all have history.
Seven of them are tied together, like knots on a string, by Kingston Road, so named because it was the highway created to carry horse and carriage traffic from York (Toronto’s former name) to Kingston.
The Scarborough Bluffs, which rise from Victoria Park in the west, climb ever higher on their journey east, peak in the Cliffside community and then slowly begin to peter out near the Rouge River, which divides Scarborough on the eastern side of Metropolitan Toronto from Pickering and all the villages and towns East of there along the lake.
If you are in the “Bluffs”, anywhere from Victoria Park Avenue, east to Port Union at Hwy 401, from the railway south of the Danforth to the lake, you are in what is called Scarborough Bluffs – there is no such thing as “eastern”, and definitely not “upper” to the Beaches, as some commercial enterprises feel it necessary to re-name us. Those who live here are already “up” – on top of those bluffs! And proud we are to live in such a beautiful place with many historic associations plus an historic name.
The Scarborough Bluffs got its name from Elizabeth Graves Simcoe, wife of Upper Canada’s first Lt. Governor, John Graves Simcoe, who upon seeing them for the first time while sailing past them on her way to York, remarked that they reminded her of the Scarborough Bluffs in northern England that she knew so well. Those cliffs face the North Sea and their geography makes Scarborough, England, a favored holiday destination. A depiction of the Graves-Simcoe’s ship sailing past the bluffs is depicted in a mural painted on the wall of a commercial building in Cliffside. One of many murals installed in this area by Mural Routes.
The Bluffs here are composed of a mixture of sand, silt, clay and till complexes of the Pleistocene age and stretch along the lake for approximately 15 km. They are pock marked with the holes made by birds for their nests. Wind, rain, snow, ice, vibration and wave action, particularly in the Spring, all take their toll, but they are also eroded by hundreds of underground streams which exit along the face of the Bluffs. The erosion is constant and at times catastrophic. Many a home has tumbled to its doom because of the earth having been eroded slowly but surely under its foundations. Residents back gardens can lose as much as 40 feet suddenly and without warning, as has happened many times over the years since homes have been built on streets close to the edge of the Bluffs to take advantage of the view over the lake.
However, nature never takes without giving. Down through the years, the eroded material drifted westward to form the Toronto Islands.
Erosion also created a spire-like structure, fondly referred to as “cathedral bluffs”. Today it has lost some of its grandeur due to erosion controls being put in place several years ago but as recently as 50 years ago it truly was an awe-inspiring sight and photographs of it have been used in many pieces of diverse literature over the years. See our own pictures taken a little later, at the top of this account.
Only one of probably several bluffs can be seen above the water (there are at least two that are known, going down into the lake like stepping stones, and no doubt they are also eroding silently from the wave action of the lake, which is one of the deepest lakes in the world.
From any angle, from the road going down to Bluffers Park, from the road joining that from the eastern reaches of that park, from almost everywhere in the park and from out in the lake, they are a majestic sight.
The Bluffs themselves aren’t the only attraction at the park though. The sand beach rivals that of the north shore in P.E.I. Winding paths go through grassy hillocks; an abundance of shady trees, bushes and flowers makes for pleasant strolls. Picnic tables are generously scattered throughout, bringing so many picnickers down there in July and August that traffic has to be turned away at Kingston Road because the parking lots are full.
These “islands” of peace and tranquility were not made by nature, however, but by what is known as “clean fill” and (it has long been suspected) by not so clean fill and huge rocks.
The hill that rises to one’s right on the steep road down to the park from Kingston Road, is in fact one of the huge number of garbage dumps that Scarborough became host to in the middle 1900s. That hill became a victim to an unusually wet Fall, Winter and Spring in 1991 and loosed some of its contents, which together with earth, flowed over the road, blocking traffic completely. The City quickly built a temporary road on the other side to accommodate people living and working in the Marina area, until the debris could be cleared. The road can still be seen today, on your left as you go down Brimley Road.
There are of course, many who need to go to Bluffers Park for much more than a day at the beach or for a picnic. The park has three sailing clubs. Not just yachts frequent or use the facilities provided by the park though. A hardy sector lives there on their boats year-round in the marina yacht basin. Dry dock space is provided as well.
In the last few years another interesting feature has been added to this park. Houseboats have been allowed permanent docking space in the area to the left of the access road leading to Bluffers’ Restaurant and the Marina area. These house boats are literally floating houses with every convenience and have layout similarities to land locked houses.
A unique restaurant that is actually built right over the water is situated in this part of the park and is a popular place for both residents of the area and the wider population of Toronto. A pub on the basement level is appreciated by the “live-ins” who live year-round on their boats in the Marina. “Bluffers Restaurant” has two other floors above the pub, the ground floor being the main restaurant area and a smaller room is above that, mainly used for private parties, etc., has magnificent views of the Bluffs and the lake.
Peter Wood, who is an artist, writer and avid bird watcher, and who used to write articles about the birds in Bluffers Park for this newspaper (and earned the name of the Bird Man in consequence!) considered this a perfect place from which to observe the many land and water species of birds that call these bluffs “home” as well as for those who use it as a stopping off spot during migration.
Cathedral Bluffs were aptly named by local residents because of the spire like structure in one spot. Coincidentally, the land above is owned and occupied by St. Augustine’s Seminary, among other Catholic organizations there.
The park is also “not just a pretty face”. It has a unique ecological system that was built in the area just below the “cathedral”, which has a small partially enclosed bay. The system was installed to control effluent flowing from the (still to this day) undivided sewer and overflow pipes that serve this ancient area of Scarborough. “Dunker’s Flow”, as it was named after it’s Dutch inventor, is constructed so as not to distract from the scenery around it and in fact it uses natural flora in part to perform the job of getting rid of the toxins from that effluent. Several interlocking platforms crisscross the pond, from which hang curtains that guide the incoming material to its ultimate destination. The pond is surrounded by specific types of vegetation, planted by the Conservation Authority, with help from local school children on one occasion.
These photographs and the article may not be reproduced or reprinted or words changed for use in any way without the express permission of the author, Lee Graves who can be contacted at Bluffs Monitor at 416-691-4085.