Volunteers, immigrants, community get together for 50 years at the Scarborough Museum

Fifty years ago, a bit of Scarborough made a monumental move to start a new life as the Scarborough Museum.

Scarborough Museum

“Volunteers, combined with the Lions Club, came together to save Cornell House, which was going to be demolished because it was in the way of a railway track,” museum curator Madeline Callaghan said.

“The train tracks were being widened and Cornell House was in the way, so the community pulled together. They fundraised and moved the house. It took two separate vehicles to move the Cornell House from Markham Road to [Thomson Park].”

Half a century later, the Scarborough Museum is celebrating its 50th anniversary with a year of events, including a big celebration set for June 27, which will acknowledge the people who have made big moves themselves to come to Scarborough.

“We have a lot of newcomer youth and adult who are volunteering at the museum,” museum coordinator Elaine Savva said. “Those volunteers are helping us celebrate Canadian Multiculturalism Day. One way they’re doing this is through an exhibit called Destination Scarborough.”

Destination Scarborough will feature suitcases placed throughout the museum. The suitcases will show some of the the essential belongings an immigrant may have brought with them to Canada.

Every month we pick a different cake recipe. It could be from the 1800s up until the present.

— Elaine Savva

Since opening in 1962, the Scarborough Museum has grown to four buildings: Cornell House, McCowan Log Cabin, Hough Carriage Works and Kennedy Gallery.

As part of the anniversary celebrations, various activities will be presented throughout the year, with the Cake of the Month being one of them.

“Every month we pick a different cake recipe. It could be from the 1800s up until the present,” Savva said. “People are able to come in and sample the cake and they can try to guess the decade, [and] guess when it first appeared in recipe print.”

Savva says the museum was run by volunteers from 1962 to 1985. By 1985, the museum became too popular to run on a volunteer only basis and needed the City of Toronto to step in with funding.

Callaghan says the Scarborough Museum works within a very restricted budget from the city.

“We really utilize the resources from volunteers to maximize the program,” Callaghan said. “We’ve been able to keep any additional costs to a minimum because there’s really no budget for it.”

Callaghan says the June 27 celebration is being driven by immigrants.

“We (Scarborough Museum) have been working really closely with new immigrants, it’s called out Adult Cultural Council,” Callaghan said. “They decided it would be a really good idea to have an immigration day.”

Callaghan says the Scarborough Museum has an immigrant cooking group called Scarborough Fair.

“They come to the museum every other Friday and use our historic kitchens to make foods that are historic in their own countries,” Callaghan said. “Scarborough Fair is going to vote on which recipes they think will be able to serve to the public [on June 27].”

Callaghan says the Scarborough Museum will have an exhibit which talks about the things immigrants bring today, and the challenges they face when they move to Canada.

“We’re using oral history interviews to do that. We’re turning the museum into a very inclusive environment, where we’re hoping to bridge the gap between the very first settlers and the immigrants of today,” Callaghan said. “We want to show that history is a connected thread, a continuum.”

Over the years there hasn’t been any major damage to the property, Savva says.

“We get a couple of windows broken every now and then,” Savva said. “But I think that’s just teenagers wanting something to do.”

Savva says the biggest success over the years is the growing number of volunteers, as well as museum visitors.

The Scarborough Museum is open all year around, with the June 27 celebration kicking off at 6:30 p.m.