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Visiting the McCowan Log House: learning about the early history of Scarborough, Ontario

Updated on May 9, 2011
Provincial flag of Ontario
Provincial flag of Ontario | Source
The McCowan Log House, Scarborough
The McCowan Log House, Scarborough | Source
End view of the McCowan Log House, Scarborough
End view of the McCowan Log House, Scarborough | Source
Map location of Scarborough, Toronto, Ontario
Map location of Scarborough, Toronto, Ontario | Source

Remembering an early Scarborough family

Even since Swedes introduced the log cabin to North America in Delaware, this kind of simple structure began to enter North American folklore.

In this well-preserved Log House, in Scarborough's Thomson Memorial Park, there are vivid memories of the early history of Ontario's Scarborough. Although Scarborough is now within the city limits of Toronto, this Log House was essentially in a remote, rural location when first built. The West Highland Creek running through the Park is now an urban tributary of the Highland Creek (1). The surrounding parkland thus befits the current location of the Log House since it in a measure evokes its original, rural setting.

Some history

The Thomson Memorial Park is the home of the Scarborough Historical Museum, of which the Log House constitutes a part. While the name Thomson refers to the founding family of Scarborough who came to the area in the 1790s, the McCowan Log House's name denotes William Porteous McCowan (1820-1902), who lived in the log cabin from 1848. While the Log House is known to have existed from 1830, it is William McCowan's name which has come to be associated with the structure.

The McCowan family hailed from Lesmahagow, Scotland. (I was also interested to visit this Scottish town a number of years ago.)

A plaque sponsored by the Scarborough Historical Society details some of the Log House's associations. This structure was originally situated in the north-east part of Scarborough. However, the Log House was moved to its current location in 1974. It thus stands close to Cornell House (named for another, prominent early settler family), the larger structure of the complex which constitutes the Scarborough Historical Museum.

Visiting in winter: some sober reflections

When I visited the McCowan Log House, costumed historical interpreters were relating an account of 19th century conditions to a party of schoolchildren. Being winter, a fire was roaring in the hearth and the sobering and thoughtful observation was made that it was a regular, tragic occurrence for women working in such a kitchen environment, while wearing the long, floppy dresses once popular, to be seriously injured or even to suffer death by fire when their clothing came into inadvertent contact with such a fire as was roaring in winter.


(1) The Friends of the Highland Creek has over a number of years succeeded in planting 8,000 trees and 10,000 wildflowers in the area. A team of active volunteers operates with a concern to preserve the local, natural heritage.

Also worth seeing

The visitor attractions and cultural sites of the Greater Toronto Area are far too numerous to summarize adequately here. But a few, more closely located, noted properties include the following:

Ashbridge Estate, Toronto (distance: 13.9 kilometres), situated on Queen Street, East, recalls over 200 years of associations with the Ashbridges, another early settler family. The gracious property situated at the centre of the estate dates from the mid-19th century.

Gibson House, Willowdale , Toronto (distance: 16.8 kilometres), dating from 1851, is a local, historic property, now a museum.

Erskine Church, Pickering (distance: approx. 18.4 kilometres); this historic church dates from 1854. In the vicinity is a Pioneer Memorial Cairn, with some interesting 19th century inscriptions.


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 Thomson Memorial Park: 35.6 kilometres). However, visitors may prefer to use the TTC public transit: the Brimley #21 bus from Kennedy Subway Station accesses the vicinity of Thomson Memorial Park, at 1007 Brimley Road, Scarborough. Please note that some facilities may be withdrawn without notice. Please check with the airline or your travel agent for up to date information.

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


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    • MJFenn profile image

      MJFenn 6 years ago

      Thank-you for your comment. Until the 19th century, when what is now Finland was absorbed by the Russian Empire, (prior to eventual Finnish independence in 1918) Finns were counted as Swedish nationals, and it was the King of Sweden who sponsored settlement in Delaware.

    • profile image

      Boba 6 years ago

    • profile image

      Boba 6 years ago

      You should get your facts right. It wasn't the Swedes who introduced the log cabin to North America, but the Finns.