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Visiting the former Scarborough Council Chambers, Birchcliff, Scarborough, Ontario: remembering the governance of reeves

Updated on July 10, 2014
Provincial flag of Ontario
Provincial flag of Ontario | Source
Former Scarborough Council Chambers, Birchcliff
Former Scarborough Council Chambers, Birchcliff | Source
Map location of Scarborough, Toronto, Ontario
Map location of Scarborough, Toronto, Ontario | Source

Seeking to keep pace with huge, urban growth

So this building was the official meeting place of Scarborough's local government? and the historical plaque commemorates the mayors who worked from here? Well, yes and no. Scarborough became a Borough in Canada's Centennial year, and a Mayor of Scarborough was thus designated but prior to 1967 and from 1850 onwards, Scarborough, as a Township, was headed not by a mayor but by a reeve.

The use of the term 'reeve' to describe the head of the local government in Scarborough is thus redolent of the small town beginnings of what is now an integral part of the City of Toronto.

The building in the Birchcliff suburb of Scarborough, executed substantially in brick, incorporates a conspicuous, Classical-style pediment. Its Kingston Road elevation displays elements of round arching at the second storey windows. The structure was in fact mainly intended as premises for a bank, in this case the Bank of Commerce; the Council Chambers were essentially an additional feature of the building, occupying the upper floor.

A commemorative plaque gives details of the use of this former bank between January 1922 and April 1949. Some population statistics are given on the plaque, which make interesting reading. In 1922, the population of Scarborough was 10,528; this sheds light on the fact that such a small building would have been housed the local, governing body of the Scarborough Township. By 1949, however, the population had risen to 41,216, and this would also provide a definite clue as to why the Township chose to vacate the small premises in which it had met for the past 27 years, during which period Scarborough's population had quadrupled. (Interestingly, in 2005, Scarborough's population was 602,575.)

After 117 years of being headed by a reeve, however, administrative change may be said to have truly 'hotted up' in Scarborough after 1967, when it became a Borough. Scarborough's Reeve, Albert Campbell (see also re. the Cornell Home, Kingston Road, below) was redesignated Mayor in 1967, and became chairman of Metro Toronto in 1969. In turn, Scarborough went from being a Borough to a City in 1983, although this arrangement proved to be relatively short-lived because in 1998 Scarborough was incorporated into the City of Toronto, under a new Mayor of Toronto. Less than 50 years had thus elapsed between the creation of a vast City government for Toronto under one mayor and the administration of Scarborough headed by a Reeve in this small building at Birchcliff (which is not open to the public).

In 1922, the Reeve was E. M Croker; in 1949, the office was held by O. E. Crockford. If they were with us today, these Reeves would doubtless be bewildered by the astronomical growth of this former Ontario township.

Linguistic note: A 'reeve' — someone who keeps the peace — is a term that may be over 1000 years old. The term sherrif, later widely applied in North America, is a contraction of 'shire-reeve', an Old English term pre-dating the Norman Conquest; among prominent, even legendary, Medieval holders of the office of Sherrif was the famed Sherrif of Nottingham, England, the great antagonist of Robin Hood.

May 4, 2012

Also worth seeing

The Kingston Road area of Scarborough has several interesting murals; these include: the Scarborough Rifle Company mural at 1577 Kingston Road and the Half Way House mural at 2052 Kingston Road.

The Cornell Home historical plaque (distance: 7.3 kilometres), near the intersection of Kingston Road and Eglinton Avenue, gives further details about aspects of the past governance of Scarborough.


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 intersection of Kingston Road and Birchmount Road : 36.4 kilometres). Visitors may prefer to use the TTC 12 or 69 buses. 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.

Historical plaque, former Scarborough Council Chambers
Historical plaque, former Scarborough Council Chambers | Source

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