Highland Creek was a centre of commerce in the early history of Scarborough

[Update: Highland Creek was highlighted in a CBC Radio Metro Morning broadcast in the fall of 2013.

The CBC link (see previous sentence) introduces Highland Creek as follows:

  • Highland Creek is in the south-east corner of Scarborough bordered … It has roots in the 1800s, and it’s been described as still having that “small village” feel. There are lots of single family homes on large lots on tree-lined streets, and a main street with independent shops.

An interesting feature of the text is that it refers to the Highland Creek as part of the boundary of Highland Creek. The accompanying map, however, indicates that the creek is in the interior of the neighbourhood. The stream that forms part of the boundary of Highland Creek, as the map indicates, is the Rouge River.

End of update]


I lived at Eesti Kodu, an Estonian condominium in Scarborough, during the summer of 1982 prior to attending the University of Toronto Faculty of Education in 1982-83. I got my teacher’s certificate at that point, after two and a half years of working as an occasional teacher in schools across Toronto.

I often visit the Ehatare Retirement Home just west of Eesti Kodu on Old Kingston Road.

While at school in 1982-83 I stayed at Tartu College near Spadina Avenue and Bloor Street West in Toronto. Tartu College is named after Tartu, a university town in Estonia.

Colonel Danforth Park

Eesti Kodu is on a ridge at the edge of a ravine overlooking the Highland Creek flood plain where Colonel Danforth Park is located.

I often went jogging in the park when I lived at Eesti Kodu.

In the mid-1990s, before I began teaching at the Peel District School Board, I worked as a long-term occasional teacher at a special education program at West Hill Collegiate Institute, which is also on a ridge overlooking the Highland Creek flood plain. In those years I lived at Estorada on Galloway Road, a short distance from West Hill C. I.

A resident at Estorada, a fellow Estonian, drove me to job interviews in Peel, as I did not have a car at the time.

Highland Creek Village is located to the east of Eesti Kodu as you travel along Old Kingston Road. A City of Toronto planning document about the Highland Creek neighbourhood notes that in the 1850s, “Highland Creek was the largest residential and business centre in the former Township of Scarborough, containing a school, Presbyterian, Catholic, and Methodist churches, and a number of general stores, blacksmith shops and hotels.”

According to the latter overview, Highland Creek remained generally unchanged until the 1950s, when the current version of the neighbourhood was developed.

Highland Creek watershed

The Toronto and Region Conservation Authority notes that the Highland Creek watershed is the most urbanized watershed in the Toronto region.

The TRCA notes, as well, at the website accessible at a link in the previous sentence, that Colonel Danforth Park, stretching south along the Highland Creek from the University of Toronto Scarborough campus to Lawrence Avenue East, was named after Asa Danforth, who, in 1799, cut and cleared the first main road through what is now Scarborough.

Imagine Woody Woodpecker

The entry about Colonel Danforth Park at the TRCA website adds:

“Using the network of recreational trails, take an afternoon and stroll through Colonel Danforth Park. Listen closely to the sounds of nature as you walk, you may just hear the distinctive sounds of the pileated woodpecker. The largest of our woodpeckers, the pileated woodpecker (imagine Woody Woodpecker of the old Loony Tunes cartoon), is dependent on old growth forest and has been recorded breeding in the mature forest of Colonel Danforth Park.”

A Dec. 28, 2010 article at spacing.ca highlights the history of Highland Creek. The article notes that “While the bypass directed most through traffic away from Highland Creek, it allowed for the preservation of some of the old community’s built heritage.”

An Oct. 12, 2011 Scarborough Mirror article highlights current planning issues related to the neighbourhood.

Additional background about the history of Highland Creek Village is available at the Centennial Community and Recreation Association of Scarborough website. The website notes that originally the Highland Creek community extended from the Pickering border to Galloway Road.

The people of Scarborough: A history (1997)

Barbara Myrvold (1997, p. 48) notes that “Apart from innkeeping along the township’s two main roads, Scarborough’s earliest settlers mostly farmed, cut and burned wood, and milled. William Cornell laid out the first orchard in Scarborough in 1802, and two years later he constructed the first of many gristmills and sawmills in the township on Highland Creek.”

Fact & folklore (1998)

John R. Spilsbury (1998, p. 25) refers to immense pine trees, six feet in diameter, that existed in the Highland Creek valley in the 1850s, along with excellent soil for farming.

According to Spilsbury, Old Kingston Road was a centre of commerce in those years. The lifeline to Toronto and Montreal was the stage coach, which passed through Hillside Creek.

Local business relied on stage coach travellers, but stage coach travel declined with the arrival of the railway in 1856. Lumbering ceased once the trees were gone. In 1921, No. 2 Highway opened and bypassed the village.

Old Kingston Road can be a challenge to drive in icy conditions. As you approach the Hillside Creek bridge from the west you experience a steep descent to the Hillside Creek flood plain followed by a steep ascent as you proceed toward Pickering. It made sense for the No. 2 Highway to bypass such a route.

What has remained is Colonel Danforth Park, the spacious grounds of the University of Toronto Scarborough Campus, and the residential communities along Old Kingston Road on either side of the creek. The relatively slow pace of development in the area may account, as the previously mentioned spacing.ca magazine article notes, for the presence of several heritage buildings in the area.


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