Celebrating Glen Stewart Ravine

Gene Domagala will cover the historical aspect of an organized walk through the Glen Stewart Ravine on Sunday, Oct. 25 as part of the launch of a new Friends of Glen Stewart Ravine group. See page 4 for details.

 

Twelve thousand or so years ago an ice age retreated, leaving a lake called Lake Iroquois. Over the years it receded, leaving streams and rivers in the East End and the lake we now call Lake Ontario. In the East End we were left with what we now call Scarborough and the Beach, including the Scarborough Bluffs and little valleys filled with trees and vegetation. There were many of these from the present Fallingbrook Avenue to the Don River.

One was what we now call the Glen Stewart Ravine, although there have been other names for it. The ravine originally stretched from north of the Danforth south to the lake. There were several ponds and marshes and streams, large trees, flowers, and vegetation. The ravine ranged from half a mile to a mile in width, and was a natural habitat for wild animals and birds.

Children enjoy the Glen Stewart ravine circa 1910. PHOTO: City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1244, Item 7231
Children enjoy the Glen Stewart ravine circa 1910.
PHOTO: City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1244, Item 7231

Scarboro Heights Hotel

The Scarboro Heights Hotel was built in 1879. The directors were Peter Paterson, James Lamond Smith (who introduced golf to Toronto in the 1870s) James Beaty, Allen McLean Howard (who owned the property on Glen Stewart), and George Leslie (of Leslieville fame).

Tourists came to the area on the Kingston Road tramway, and often stopped at this luxurious hotel located at the top of the present Glen Stewart Ravine on Kingston Road. The hotel eventually went up for sale. As fate would have it a group of businessmen and medical people wanted to purchase the building and property for a lunatic asylum.

Glen Stewart golf course

Glen Stewart was the original home of Walter Stewart Darling, an Anglican minister who started several churches in the 1870s. Later the property was owned by a Mr. Ames, a wealthy stockbroker and philanthropist. Ames was also a fitness buff who turned his property into an athletic field and golf course for the public. It was the first municipal golf course in the City of Toronto, started in the early 1920s.

Glen Duart ravine

Allen McLean Howard worked as a clerk for 50 years at City Hall, both on Jarvis Street and at the newer city hall at Queen Street and Bay Street (now Old City Hall). He named his farm Glen Duart, after the Scottish area his relatives came from.

Glen Duart was one of the best kept farms in the East End. McLean Howard raised Guernsey cows imported from England. He had pheasants, Peking ducks, and other birds and animals. McLean Howard’s farm produced many prizes from what is now the Canadian National Exhibition. After living there for many years he moved to Oakville. His house, however, is still standing at the northwest corner of McLean Avenue and Queen Street, just behind the Beacher Cafe.

Ivan Forrest Gardens

On Queen Street is a relatively new park called Ivan Forrest Gardens. It was named for Ivan Forrest, who was a commissioner of Parks and Recreation for the City of Toronto prior to amalgamation. Forrest was responsible for many new programs, and was a very progressive commissioner – a person ahead of his time in his field.

Stewart Manor

The bridge over the Glen Stewart Ravine as it looked in 1921. PHOTO: City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1244, Item 1734
The bridge over the Glen Stewart Ravine as it looked in 1921.
PHOTO: City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1244, Item 1734

After McLean Howard moved out of the Glen Duart Ravine, a large real estate company decided to renovate the estate into homes that are still there today. The company called the property Stewart Manor. They hired Lorrie Alfreda Dunington-Grubb, probably one of the best known landscape architects of her time, to design the landscaping. She was born in England and studied garden design and later landscape architecture. After coming to Canada with her husband they established the well-known Sheridan Nurseries.

South of Queen

Below Queen Street the ravine extended to the lake. This land had a stream running into the lake. At one time this was a farm belonging to a Mr. O’Connor. Later O’Connor willed the land to a religious order and it became the House of Providence Farm. In 1907 the land was bought by a syndicate that built the Scarboro Beach Amusement Park, which lasted until 1926. Later it was developed into the Price Brothers housing complex, with outstanding four-plexes, many still relatively unchanged.

The present ravine

Glen Stewart Ravine to me and many other Beachers is like an oasis in the desert. When one starts to walk south through the nature trail it’s like another world. You can hear birds chirping, the sound of the small babbling brook, but you can’t hear the noisy traffic of the city. In the spring you can see migrating birds heading south – a bird-watcher’s paradise. Besides the birds and animals one can see a variety of trees.

This idyllic setting was a utopia for people like the late, great naturalist Fred Bodsworth, who told me about this great escape from the city.

It is best that you come here yourself to hear, smell, and see the wonders of this great nature trail. When walking through this green maze you can go back in time hundreds of years to when the native people travelled these areas. Coming down to Glen Manor you can see the vestiges of the ponds that used to be there long ago. Going under the bridge and south to the waterfall in Ivan Forrest Gardens, one can thank the Lord (and the parks department) for keeping this a great site for all.


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5 comments

When I was a boy I lived on Balsam Avenue, and our back yard sloped down into the Glen Stewart Ravine. We kids called it “the bush”, and we practically lived in it. There were no convenient wide paths then, just narrow ones that wound among the trees We explored the ravine in summer, and tobogganed down its slopes in winter. It was supposed to be inhabited by the notorious Bush Gang, a mythical group of older kids. We sometimes thought we saw them, but actually they were groups of other kids – who probably thought WE were the bush gang!

Loved and played in the Glen Stewart Ravine as a kid, like Robert, though I lived on Hammersmith. Later I would use it to go to Malvern C.I. It was an oasis, away from any problems.
The treed ravines of Toronto, as well as it’s other beautiful features like the bluffs and lake parks in general are world class. I have traveled a great deal and have found no match.

I still live close and look into the ravine often and have the same wonder and calmness as when I was 11 yrs old. Beats any plastic playground! Kids just always should be in groups.

Always interesting to read Gene’s histories of the area.

Of course, the Scarborough Bluffs didn’t exist 10,000 years ago – the land would have continued to the south and over time eroded it away, with the soil and sand being swept westward to form what is now Toronto Island.

Over time the bluffs the Bluffs will continue to erode and the shoreline shift even farther northwards, though the City has intervened to slow the process down.

Also, I believe that the Price Brothers only were one of 5 builders and they only built the quadriplexes – this is what an academic study I read (with an old newspaper ad for the Scarboro Beach development) seemed to imply.

HI Gene:

My mother told me she grew up on the “Glen Manor Estate” .
She was born in 1922 – and her father, (who was just home from WWI,) Lorne Wilcox, was the chauffeur.
I believe they lived in a smaller house – perhaps like a coach house, on the property.
When she was 10 – the lady of the house gave her a lovely writing desk – which I still have.
My mother died some years ago, and I’ve recently become more curious as to exactly where that estate house was. Reading some of your earlier articles on line – it seems the estate was called Glen Stewart, and the owner was Mr. A. E. Ames. It is possible I heard my mother mention “Mrs. Ames” gave her the desk – but that might be a stretch on my part.
Do you have any more information about this estate? perhaps a picture? Try as I might – I am unable to find a thing.
Thank you so much,
Janet Matthews –

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