Visiting the mural 'Half Way House', Scarborough, Ontario: mid-19th century cameo of a stagecoach inn

Provincial flag of Ontario
Provincial flag of Ontario | Source
Half Way House mural (detail), Scarborough
Half Way House mural (detail), Scarborough | Source
Half Way House mural, Scarborough
Half Way House mural, Scarborough | Source
Map location of Toronto, Ontario
Map location of Toronto, Ontario | Source

Staging post between Toronto and Dunbarton

This mural, painted in 1990 by the artist John Hood, depicts the former Half Way House, an in which stood near the location of the mural at 2502 Kingston Road, near the intersection with what is now Midland Avenue in Scarborough, Ontario.

This mural forms part of the Mural Routes Heritage Trail, and, indeed, was the first of these various murals in Ontario to be painted. A plaque maintained by Scarborough Arts Council gives historical background to the work. Regular travellers along Kingston Road in Scarborough will be aware that a number of murals from this series are easily visible from the road.

The name of the former inn: Half Way House, was derived from the fact that it marked the Scarborough mid-point between St Lawrence Market, Toronto and the village of Dunbarton, now part of Pickering. The inn thus served as a staging post for the road route eastward from Toronto.

Particularly until the coming of the railway, the stagecoach which halted at Half Way House served as a popular alternative to the frequently used ship routes on Lake Ontario which served various port communities east of Toronto.

Half Way House, with its typical balconied frontage, was eventually moved to Black Creek Pioneer Village, Toronto, in 1965, where together with many other historic properties it assists in depicting for visitors Ontario life in the 19th century.

This mural thus presents a cameo of life around the inn which flourished for a while in the mid 19th century, as this area of Ontario — eventually incorporated in to Toronto — became more populated, and while technological development continued which would eventually make the stagecoach obsolete.

Interestingly, the attire of the two young girls depicted in the mural is not untypical for the mid-19th century: bonnets and smocks. But one wonders also at the pose: Mr Hood, the artist, evidently put himself in the supposed position of a photographer, whereby a still of people posing for the photograph would be captured. There is a significant detail: one of the girls seems to be smiling broadly, whereas for most mid-19th century cameras it was necessary to remain motionless for quite a long period, during which any attempted smile was often lost. So the mural definitely seems period-specific, although there are one or two uncanny nuances which are also suggestive of photography from a later era, rather than of posing for painting. It is said that the camera does not lie. But, paintings and murals are in a somewhat different category because the symbolic aspect of a mural is almost inherently strong, and an artist depicting period scenes must ultimately be accorded a certain amount of artistic licence, which here, wittingly or not, Mr Hood has taken. A mural is also inherently a background piece of art with which many people will become generally familiar as they pass it. It is maybe a pity, but closer examination of mural art will often be attempted by a relatively small proportion of passers by, and thus certain of its details and features may be missed altogether by most people.

Also worth seeing

Scarborough (distance: 6.1 kilometres); the Thomson Memorial Park has some interesting 19th century buildings.

Pickering (distance: 20.1 kilometres); its notable structural features include the Erskine Church and the nearby Pioneer Memorial Cairn.

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How to get there: Air Canada, flies to Toronto Pearson Airport, with wide North American and other connections, from where car rental is available. (Distance from Toronto Pearson Airport to the area of the mural: approx. 41.2 kilometres). However, visitors may prefer to use the TTC public transit: services to the area include the #12 bus. Please note that some facilities may be withdrawn without notice. For up to date information, please check with the airline or your travel agent.

MJFenn is an independent travel writer based in Ontario, Canada.

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