Located in Thomson Memorial Park, Scarborough Museum offers a rare glimpse into the life of early settlers.
Scarborough Museum is set along the walking trails of beautiful Thomson Memorial Park, once the farm fields of Scarborough’s first settlers and now a popular heritage community. The museum shows the history and development of Scarborough from its founding and early settlement to its growth and emergence as a major suburb in the 20th century. The site and its gardens are situated on property first granted to David and Mary Thomson, who settled in Scarborough in the late 1790s.
Scarborough Museum consists of four buildings that were moved to the site between 1962 to 1974. These include: Cornell House, a clapboard, Scarborough vernacular-style farmhouse; the McCowan Log House, restored to its 1850s appearance; Kennedy Gallery, a small former farm outbuilding; and the Hough Carriage Works, which houses a collection of artisans tools donated by the Hough family who operated the original shop at Hough’s Corners.
Scarborough Museum offers visitors an opportunity to connect to the past through youth programming, camps, school trips, exhibits and special events.
Regular admission is Pay-What-You-Can. Special events may have different prices.
Hours of Operation
Group programs are available 7 days a week; morning, afternoon, and evening, year-round.
January to March
Tuesday: 10 a.m. - 4 p.m.
Wednesday: Noon - 8 p.m.
Thursday & Friday: 10 a.m. - 4 p.m.
Saturday & Sunday: Noon - 4 p.m.
April to June
Tuesday: 10 a.m. - 4 p.m.
Wednesday: Noon - 8 p.m.
Thursday & Friday: 10 a.m. - 4 p.m.
Saturday & Sunday: Noon - 5 p.m.
July to August
Tuesday to Sunday: 1 - 8 p.m.
September to December
Tuesday, Thursday & Friday: 10 a.m. - 4 p.m.
Wednesday: Noon - 8 p.m.
Saturday & Sunday: Noon - 4 p.m.
Closed Mondays and Statutory holidays except Canada Day
- Public washrooms
- Picnic area in park
- Free public parking
- Special needs: partial accessibility
From 401 eastbound: Take Brimley Road S. Continue southbound on Brimley Road to Thomson Memorial Park. Make a left into the parking lot.
From 401 westbound: Take Brimley Road S. Continue southbound on Brimley Road to Thomson Memorial Park. Make a left into the parking lot.
Take the Brimley # 21 bus from Kennedy Subway Station. The bus stops outside the park entrance. For specific TTC route and schedule information call 416-393-4636 (INFO) or visit the TTC website.
As part of the Scarborough Museum, the Cornell House offers a look at rural village life circa 1914 and is furnished to depict that time period. The Cornell House was constructed in 1858 and was originally home to Charles Cornell, his wife Matilda and their eight children. Charles father, William Cornell, came to Scarborough from Rhode Island in 1799. William Cornell built the township’s first sawmill at Highland Creek and along with Levi Annis, cut the ‘Front’ road along the lake in the early 1800s. Known as the ‘Cornwell Road’, it was improved and straightened in 1817 and renamed Kingston Road. Charles’ youngest daughter, Matilda inherited the house in 1887, and lived there with her mother and older brother Fred who operated a small orchard and market garden.
McCowan Log House
The McCowan Log House has been restored and furnished to portray the life of local settlers in the 1850s, and was constructed in the 1830s. The house was owned by William P. McCowan (Willie) who was born in 1820 in East Auchanbeg, Lesmahagow Parish, Lanarkshire, Scotland. In 1833, Willie emigrated to Scarborough from Scotland with his parents and siblings, and in 1848 he purchased 100 acres, the north half of Lot 13, Concession 4 which included the log house. The log house was located on the banks of Wilcot Creek in the northern part of the Malvern area in Scarborough. The building had additions and renovations made over the years and was moved to the Thornbeck property on Littles Road in 1948. In 1974 the building was moved once more to the Scarborough Museum.
Hough Carriage Works
The Hough Carriage Works collection displays carriage making equipment and artisans' tools that demonstrate the importance of transportation in the rural community. Henry Hough operated a carriage building and blacksmith shop at the southwest corner of what is now Eglinton Avenue East and Birchmount Road on land patented by his father Joseph in 1846. The shop began operating about 1856 and in the 1861 census Henry is listed as a wheelwright. The carriage making shop was a two storey wood frame building with wooden runways outside to bring the completed carriages down from the second floor. On the first floor the wagon parts were built and assembled while on the second floor, the paint and finishing touches were applied.
Description of Historic Place
The Scarborough Museum is located at 1007 Brimley Road in Thomson Memorial Park. The Museum consists of two historic 19th century houses, Cornell House and the McCowan Log House, as well as the renovated Kennedy Gallery, and a modern one quarter scale reproduction of the Hough Carriage Works. The Museum was established in 1962, when the Scarborough Historical Society moved Cornell House from Scarborough Village to its present location. Scarborough Museum, also known as the Scarborough Historical Museum, was owned by the City of Scarborough from 1985 to 2000. The Museum is now owned by the City of Toronto, and operated by the City’s Cultural Services.
Statement of Heritage Value
- Scarborough Museum is located at 1007 Brimley Road in Municipal Ward 38. Cornell House and the McCowan Log House are listed in the City of Toronto’s Inventory of Heritage Properties.
- Scarborough Museum interprets local rural and immigrant experiences, and is situated within a significant heritage landscape. The region’s natural resources have attracted many human populations over time, including nomadic native groups who inhabited the area centuries before the arrival of European settlers. The Museum is located in a heritage community near the historic Highland Creek, and is also close to two notable Aboriginal archaeological sites, the Iroquoian Village at Birkdale Ravine to the west, and Tabor Hill Ossuary to the east.
- Scarborough Museum was established in the hamlet of Bendale, within the historic Thomson Settlement. This was the first permanent settlement in the township, and is recognized as a culturally significant district by the Ontario Heritage Trust. This area has ties to the past with 19th century architecture and properties along St. Andrew’s Road, that borders the north end of the park.
- Scarborough Museum is located in a City park, within the Highland Creek Watershed. Portions of the watershed are protected under the Ravine and Natural Feature Protection by-law that applies to the conservation of major valleys and ravines under the jurisdiction of the Toronto and Region Conservation Authority (TRCA) (City of Toronto Municipal Code Chapter 658, Ravine and Natural Feature Protection). The TRCA has formed an Environmental Stewardship Program for the Highland Creek Watershed, and is working to establish a community Task Force to direct the development of a watershed strategy and compose a vision for the future of the natural resource.
- Scarborough Museum is historically significant for its association with some of the region’s earliest settlers. The Museum was established on land that was owned by the first European inhabitants in the area, David and Mary Thomson. The site consists of two 19th century houses as well as additional buildings and collections that interpret the history of settlement and rural life in Scarborough since the early 1800s.
- Scarborough Museum consists of buildings that have been relocated from various heritage settlements in Scarborough, as well as a small scale representation of a local historic structure. The Museum’s main historic houses, Cornell House and the McCowan Log House, date from the 1850s and represent building styles that are characteristic of local 19th century rural architecture.
Character Defining Elements
Key elements that define the heritage value of this site include:
- Scarborough Museum is located on Lot 24, Concession 1, in Thomson Memorial Park. This area was once part of a 200 acre farm that was owned by David and Mary Thomson. David and Mary settled in the area in the late 18th century, and patented their Scarborough property in 1802. Members of the family became prominent landholders in the township, and significant figures in the history of Toronto, Scarborough, and Upper Canada. Thomson Memorial Park was established in 1962 when the Thomsons’ descendants donated part of the historic property to the township for public use.
- The Cornell farmhouse was built for Charles and Matilda Cornell in 1858. The house was originally located in Scarborough Village, north of Eglinton Avenue, facing east on Markham Road. Charles’ father William Cornell was a United Empire Loyalist who immigrated to Scarborough from Rhode Island in 1799. William built the township’s first sawmill at Highland Creek, and helped to cut the Kingston Road along the shore of Lake Ontario in 1801. The house was inhabited by members of the Cornell family until 1944, when William and Frances Lye purchased the property and opened the Lye Organ and Piano Works. The building was saved from demolition in 1961 through the intervention of the Scarborough Historical Society and local Lions Clubs, who raised the funds to move the house to the newly established Thomson Memorial Park, where it became the first component of the Museum.
- The McCowan Log House was built in the 1830s on the banks of Wilcott Creek on Lot 13, Concession 4 in the northern Malvern area. The Scottish immigrant William Porteous McCowan settled in Scarborough with his parents and siblings in the early 19th century and purchased 100 acres on Lot 13 in 1848. He moved into the existing log house with his mother and sister, and continued to farm the land and raise livestock until his death in 1902. The McCowan family sold the cabin to John Thornbeck in 1948, who moved the building to his farm on Littles Road. The house fell into disuse in the 1950s and 1960s, and was finally moved to Thomson Memorial Park by the Scarborough Historical Society in 1974.
- Scarborough Museum’s archival collection includes various documents relating to previous restoration projects and museum planning. On-site documents include primary source materials such as transcripts of interviews with local inhabitants and historic photographs, as well as administrative files and an online artefact inventory. Further materials are available in various collections at the Archives of Ontario, the City of Toronto Archives, the Toronto Public Library, and the Scarborough Historical Society Archives.
- The Scarborough Museum artefact collection contains over 3300 objects dating from the 19th and 20th centuries. The majority of the collection consists of materials that were purchased from or donated by local families, and represent the various rural experiences and lifestyles interpreted at the Museum. In addition a collection of over 400 tools donated by the Hough family is exhibited on site, in a building that is a smaller representation of the original two storey Hough Carriage works. Collections are stored on site, at the Scarborough Archives, and the former Scarboro’ Centennial Memorial Library, and at other Cultural Services storage facilities.
- Cornell House was likely constructed in 1858 by a local builder and local carpenters. It is a frame clapboard structure with a cedar shingle roof, and the exterior façade exhibits the characteristics of typical Upper Canadian Vernacular style. Bill and Frances Lye carried out a number of major renovations to the interior after 1944, including the extension of the pantry, the replacement of the pantry wall and wood panelling in the dining room, and the installation of a modern fireplace and air vents in the parlour. The upstairs bedrooms are relatively unchanged from their original design with the exception of the removal of the stove pipes. An electrical upgrade and new foundation accompanied the relocation of the Cornell House in 1962, and in 1987 the house underwent a major retrofit that included the reinforcement of exterior architecture and internal house frame, as well as wall papering, re-roofing, and insulation of exterior foundation. Architect Edwin Rowse led an extended restoration project from 1995 to 2000 that involved wall papering, painting, floor refinishing, wood work repair, and masonry and ceiling repair. Cornell House is furnished to represent the early 20th century, and is interpreted as a typical middle class Scarborough home.
- The McCowan Log House was constructed in the 1830s, and has been restored and furnished to represent local settler life in the 1850s. It was originally built as a one and a half storey log house that contained a Rumford-style fireplace, and a stairway that led to the second floor. The main floor was divided into two small bedrooms and a larger living area. William McCowan built a two storey frame addition to the log house in the 1850s, boarded up the original fireplace, and cut a second doorway into the opposite wall. A front porch and shed were attached to the house at this time, although these were demolished by the 1940s. McCowan’s two storey frame addition was demolished when John Thornbeck moved the building to his farm in 1948, raised the second floor walls, and installed a woodburning stove, dormers, and central chimney.The Log House was moved to the Scarborough Museum in 1974. In 1991 heritage architect Chris Borgal led an extensive project to restore the building to its mid 19th century appearance; the interior structure was reconstructed using historic photos and documents, and the Rumford fireplace was rebuilt with a fireplace mantle salvaged from the nearby Fitzgibbon House. Edwin Rowse managed another restoration project in 2000 that included preservative log treatment and chinking with lime mortar.
- The Kennedy Gallery was once a two bay tractor garage at Lyman Kennedy’s farm in Agincourt. The 1920s structure was moved to the Museum in 1972, and has been renovated to serve as an exhibit and activity room. An example of adaptive reuse, the space was reconfigured in 1976 to incorporate flooring and interior wainscoting that were salvaged from the historic Malvern Methodist Church after it was demolished. Baseboard heaters and windows were installed in 1998.
- A number of significant archaeological sites have been uncovered in the vicinity of the Scarborough Museum. In 1956 two ossuaries associated with the Iroquois First Nations (the Haudenosaunee) were uncovered on the east side of Bellamy Road at Tabor Hill while farm land was being developed into residential properties. A 10 acre village site was discovered soon after on the north bank of Highland Creek, northwest of Lawrence Avenue and Brimley Road at the Birkdale Ravine. This village was dated to circa 1250 A.C.E. All site planning related to the Museum should be undertaken with reference to potential archaeological features, in conjunction with the City of Toronto's Master Plan for
- Scarborough Museum is located within a historic district that includes buildings and landscape features that are associated with many of the township’s early settlers. Scarborough Museum is situated near Highland Creek in Bendale, a neighbourhood that is linked to the prominent Thomson family. The Thomson Settlement is centered on St. Andrew’s Road to the north, which contains a number of historic sites and buildings that are also connected to the Thomson family. David and Mary built a cabin and a frame house in this area, and their son William built his home, the William Thomson House or “Bonese”, on St. Andrew’s Road in the mid 19th century. The red brick Springfield farmhouse belonging to William’s cousin, Springfield Jimmy, was constructed in 1840 and is the oldest surviving brick building in Scarborough.
- St. Andrew’s Road contains a number of in situ heritage buildings in addition to the Thomson family homes that are significant to the history of the township. Notable heritage features include St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church, built in 1849 on the site of Scarborough’s first church, and the late 19th century frame Sexton’s House. St. Andrew’s Cemetery is located on land that was donated to the parish by David Thomson in 1817, and contains burial monuments to many of Scarborough’s settlers. Additional landmarks include the Scarboro’ Centennial Memorial Library and the embankment of the old Canadian Northern Railway track that was abandoned in 1926.
- Cornell House, the McCowan Log House, and the Kennedy Gallery were moved to create the Museum from various locations within the Township of Scarborough. The Museum exists due to the initiative of the local population and organizations. It is an important cultural center and heritage resource for Scarborough residents, volunteers, and visitors. The Museum interprets the history of the township from early settlement to the modern day, and examines the development of the immigrant experience in Ontario over more than two centuries.