Sunday, August 29, 2021
Suburbia spread over the farms of Scarborough following World War 2 moving from Ellesmere Road to Sheppard Avenue and then Finch Avenue. By the 1980s the farms between Finch Avenue and Steeles Avenue were under development. As part of a development proposal it is common for the city to request the creation of parks in exchange for increased density. Milliken Park was created in one of these deals. Milliken was a farming community that formed on both sides of Steeles Avenue in the Kennedy Road area, beginning in 1798. South of Steeles was part of Scarborough while the north side was in Markham. Since the two townships had been surveyed separately there was a misalignment between McCowan Road on either side of Steeles and the city wanted to take advantage of the developers to have them realign the intersection.
The former farm of Alfred Myles occupied Lot 22 in Concession 5 and had a tributary of Highland Creek flowing through it. Modern flood control techniques include the creation of ponds to collect run-off from spring melting and heavy rainstorms. These ponds are usually engineered to help purify the water before allowing it to flow into the local watershed. The Toronto Archives aerial image below shows the Myles farm in 1983. The blue line is Steeles Avenue and the brown one is McCowan Road. The green line on the left will become the current alignment of McCowan Road so that it meets with its Markham counterpart. The green oval encloses the newly created pond and the existing woodlot beside it. Subdivisions are just starting to encroach from the south.
The picture above shows the property under development as a park but it wouldn’t have its official opening until ten years later in 1993. During this time the pond would be dug and the earth they removed would be piled up in little hills around the pond. To the south of the pond a larger hill would be raised. Trees and grass were planted and in the north west part of the park extensive gardens were laid out. These have become the backdrop for many wedding pictures.
The larger plants in the middle of some flower gardens in the park are a type of flowering tobacco. Known as Jasmine Tobacco or Sweet Tobacco it is grown as an ornamental plant and isn’t cultivated for smoking purposes.
Throughout the park various trees have been identified with name plates to help people learn the types of trees that surround us everyday. The tree in the picture below is a White Oak which gets its name from the pale colour of the wood.
There’s a splash pad and an extensive set of playground slides and swings to keep the little ones entertained. Picnic and bbq areas can also be found scattered around the park and fireworks are displayed every July 1 for Canada Day when there isn’t a pandemic going on.
The pond is the central piece of the park. A paved pathway makes its way around the pond and there’s a short boardwalk and viewing platform. The pond also serves to hold storm water while pollutants from the surrounding subdivisions settle. The water is then released into Highland Creek without carrying these chemicals into Lake Ontario.
Several Red-eared Sliders are living in the pond. These turtles are native to Florida and the Lower Mississippi River but have become the most common turtle to be sold as an aquarium pet. Red-eared Sliders that live past the first couple of years can be expected to survive for 30 years and this is longer than some people are prepared to keep them. So, thinking it doesn’t matter, they release them into local ponds like the one at Milliken Park. They then outcompete the native turtles for food and nesting sites. Often the native Painted Turtles become exterminated in the process.
Goldfish that are released into the wild can grow to very large size because they adapt to the size of their environment. The Toronto Region Conservation Authority reports catching ones that weigh a kilogram when they’re doing their fish surveys. A few goldfish released into a pond like Milliken Pond can increase to the thousands in just a few years because they are very prolific. There’s certainly thousands of them in Milliken Pond.
The pond is ringed with cattails which are a natural way to purify water. Since the pond is designed to remove contaminants from the surrounding drain water, these plants have been allowed to grow all the way around the pond. They naturally absorb chemicals, including phosphorus, out of the water and store it in the plant fiber. This allows the water released from the pond to have less of these chemicals in it. The willow tree, with the long light green hanging branches, in the picture below has a Great Blue Heron standing on the top branch.
Great Blue Herons are quite common in Ontario and their numbers are increasing. There were over 1,600 colonies throughout Ontario in 1976 and this had almost doubled by 1991 with a 55% increase in the number of nesting pairs over that same period. Their numbers continued to climb over the past three decades and now you can find one or more on almost every river and pond in the GTA. This one was casually preening its feathers and has a couple stuck in its mouth in the picture below.
There’s at least one large white Japanese Koi Carp in the pond. These fish can live for 35 years, grow to 35 inches in length and reach 35 pounds in weight. This one was likely about 18 inches long.
Land grants in Scarborough were 200 acres, usually completely covered with ancient forests. To earn patent, or ownership, of the land 5 acres had to be cleared and fenced. When that was done the surrounding forest be cut and the land prepared for farming. Over the years farmers would clear most of the property but almost everyone left a stand of trees from which they could cut firewood, fence posts and perhaps collect some maple sap for making syrup in the spring. The wood lot on Alfred Myles property is on the west side of the pond and has a series of trails that provide some much needed shade on hot summer days.
The park is home to many small mammals including black and red squirrels, chipmunks, and of course Eastern Cottontail Rabbits. These are perhaps the most common of the five rabbit and hare species that are native to Southern Ontario.
Monarch butterfly numbers are estimated based on the size of area in Mexico where they spend the winter. To have a sustainable population an overwinter area of 6 hectares is considered necessary. This past winter the butterflies only occupied slightly more than 2 hectares of the site. This means that there will likely be a lot fewer Monarchs to view this year. The one below appears to be still sleeping on this early Sunday morning.
As for the community of Milliken after which the park is named, there isn’t much left. The most visible reminder is Ebenezer United Church at the corner of Brimley Road. The 1877 county atlas for Scarborough Township shows a Methodist Church on the south side of Steeles while the one for Markham Township places it on the north side of the road as it is today. This happened because 1878 was the year the congregation decided to replace their original building with with this brick one constructed in the gothic revival style. They worshiped in the first church while they erected the new one across the road.
Benjamin Milliken II was the son of the founder of Milliken and he built this home in 1855. However, it’s technically in the ghost town of Haggerman’s Corners. And that, as they say, is a different story. One that we haven’t written yet.
Milliken Park has extensive paved trails, interesting wildlife and is the perfect place for friends and family to spend a relaxing afternoon.
Google Maps Link: Milliken Park
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One thing I remember so well is Lionel Purcells farm at Birchmount and Steeles. Used to visit the farm from school and on weekends, ride ponies. Now that farm is located on McCowan just south of Stouffville Road. I miss seeing all the farms on Steeles. And one more thing, do you remember when McCowan used to kitty corner a little bit East of where it is now? At Steeles
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