Saturday, December 10, 2016
Morningside Park is one of a series of parks that are interconnected along Highland Creek in Scarborough. In spite of its name, Highland Creek is actually a river. It flows through a wide valley, often 100-metres wide, that was crossed only by Military Trail until the 1930’s. Before longer span bridges were constructed, travellers had to make the climb down into the valley and back out again. It provided a natural barrier to the expansion of the city eastward. The river flows along the east end of the Scarborough Bluffs and the picture below shows the sand that makes up the bluffs also forms the banks of the river.
Morningside Park, at almost 600 acres, is the largest park in Toronto and has a large herd of white-tailed deer that call it home. A wetland filled with invasive phragmites separates the second parking lot from a woodland behind. Along the side of the woodland, there were three deer who kept their distance but were otherwise not afraid of the human presence. Over the crest of the little hill behind the deer was a tent that looks like it may be lived in at the moment. Perhaps the deer have more human company than usual.
The University of Toronto Scarborough is recognized as a Global Climate Change leader. They have over 200 faculty members on their three campuses that are researching various areas of climate change. Bill Gough’s Climate Lab at the Scarborough campus, for instance, is researching how atmospheric conditions during thunderstorms can be used as predictors for tornadoes. A research program has been set up in the park in a small dell that has been fenced and posted. There is a sign with a phone number “for more information” but it connects to a message about a summer camp program that finished in August. I wanted to find out why they had placed half coconut shells onto posts and then fenced it off to keep people out.
In the 1850’s Highland Creek was the largest residential and commercial centre in Scarborough Township. It got its post office in 1852 and soon was home to several hotels, general stores and blacksmith shops. The town also featured Methodist, Presbyterian and Catholic churches. The land grant that Morningside Park sits on was owned by John Wilson in the 1870’s and he operated a saw mill using the river for water power. As the local timber supply dwindled the mill was closed and the property eventually sold for an estate. The original mill is gone but the remnants of a more recent concrete dam provide some flood control on the river.
Erosion is a continual problem on Highland Creek and the picture below shows the extent that it can take. The river bank behind the storm drain has been washed back two full sections, one of which now lies in the creek.
Highland Creek had two grist mills on the historic atlas of 1877. Today there is a modern flood and erosion control dam in the creek near the Miller Lash house. The creek has flooded behind the dam and removed vast quantities of soil so that the metal plates are falling into the creek.
The foundations for an earlier bridge can be seen on either side of the creek.
In 1913 Miller Lash purchased the Highland Creek valley lot because he loved the fields with the river flowing through them. He was also in love with the local forests that provided ample opportunities to observe the abundant wildlife. He hired a Buffalo architect firm to design his estate in the popular Arts and Crafts style. The one story building was made of poured concrete faced with fieldstone collected from the nearby creek. Squared pine timbers support the cathedral ceilings on this seventeen-room mansion. The main house, along with several matching smaller buildings, is topped with natural clay tiles.
The estate was purchased in 1963 by the University of Toronto to create Scarborough College. When the campus opened in 1965 the house was occupied by the principal. From 1978 until 1998 the property was empty but then it received a historic designation. This led to the restoration that brought the buildings back to their 100-year old glory. They are now used for conferences, events and weddings.
The town of Highland Creek and several other parts of the park remain to be explored at some future date.
Google Maps Link: Morningside Park
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