Age isn’t just a number for Scarborough

Can the suburb’s history be interesting and significant again?

Members of the Scarborough Historical Society take great pride in preserving the area’s history, but the problem they face is making it interesting to younger generations.

According to Rick Schofield, treasurer at the Scarborough Historical Society, the drive to prepare students for provincial testing, has led to less time being spent on learning local history. Schofield also says the province’s stronger focus on English, Math, and Science has led to an overall ignorance among young people regarding Scarborough’s history.

My own experience at a high school in Scarborough tainted my knowledge of the area. Local history was downplayed, and instead encompassed a much larger and much shallower version of Canada’s past. How can someone be driven to learn about something that seems so disconnected and distant?

Fortunately, the Toronto Public Library recently released a website that highlights the different wards throughout Toronto, and describes their history through photographs and books. The website, however, leaves some to wonder if it would have been better to consult with the various historical societies across Toronto.

Schofield had little to say about the library’s attempts.

“We have a four-decade head start on them,” he said. “What I’ve seen on the site is very little historical knowledge, and some just plain wrong information.”

It is difficult to create a “historical guide to Scarborough” at the flip of a switch and, according to Schofield, near impossible without the help of groups such as his, which has over 400 members.

Scarborough’s age may have an affect on why people don’t care about its history. I know some take the impression that something can’t be historically interesting unless it was from an age that is radically different from ours. In other words, how can something be that historically significant if we have a photograph of it?

Catherine Cahill, 85, spent the past 53 years in Scarborough. She knows about the history of the area firsthand.

“I grew up in East York, but moved here soon after the birth of my seventh child. We moved out here during the beginning of the urban sprawl, right into a brand new house,” she said. “This house is now considered old, even though it is a cookie-cutter house.”

Is this “child of Toronto” history important? I believe it is because people can see, with accurate historical documents, how a community begins and where it has ended up in a short period of time.

Scarborough is a living example of how rapidly a community can grow on the outskirts of a city, starting in the 19th and 20th centuries.

The area’s history may seem dull to some, but for those at the Scarborough Historical Society, history is their obsession, and teaching community pride is their passion.