Rosetta McClain Garden


"Full many a gem of purest ray serene
The dark unfathomed caves of ocean bear;
Full many a flow'r is born to blush unseen,
And waste its sweetness on the desert air."
"Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard" by Thomas Gray.      

There is a "gem of purest ray serene" to be discovered in a small corner of Toronto bordering the shores of Lake Ontario next to rushing traffic chasing along Kingston Road.  It's called Rosetta McClain Garden and in that garden, regrettably, "many a flow'r is born to blush unseen."

Few Toronto residents know this public park and what it offers to the visitor.  Those who do, return many times to this enchanted garden. Almost every weekend during the three hospitable seasons, couples come to Rosetta McClain Garden to exchange marriage vows before hurrying to the reception halls awaiting them. 

Here is where lovers come to reaffirm their commitment to each other.
R. Watson McClain and his son Colonel John McClain dedicated the Garden to the City of Toronto in 1959 so that it might offer, "A Quiet Restful Detour" for the urban traveler seeking refuge from a busy metropolis.

The Garden is not large; one would guess less than thirty acres, but the view is awe-inspiring when standing suspended two hundred feet atop Scarborough Bluffs directly above the shores of Lake Ontario.  Looking out across the emerald water, you can  see tomorrow.

A large octagonal-shaped stone with water flowing over its brown surface rests in the center of the Garden.  It symbolizes a jewel in a surrounding cluster of breathtaking natural ornaments scattered throughout the grounds.

In another area of the Garden there is a gazebo from which many strolling paths reach out to snatch you away from the cares of urban life into secluded corners of the park offering moments of rest and relaxation.  
Two bronze plaques are stationed at the eastern gate to the Garden. Their inscriptions are identical...telling of a gift to the people of Toronto and the love of a husband and son for a wife and a mother. 




Efforts to locate R. Watson McClain and his son Colonel John McClain have been unsuccessful.  Just as every sealed bottle, containing a message, tossed onto the ocean, must one day reach a distant shore, perhaps, if this tribute reaches R. Watson McClain or his son John, they will communicate with us so that we may thank them for their gentle gift to the people of Toronto.

Rosetta McClain Garden is located on the south side of Kingston Road, east of Birchmount Avenue, at the intersection of Glen Everest Road in Scarborough, now part of Metropolitan Toronto.  Scarborough was named by Elizabeth Simcoe, the wife of the first Lieutenant-Governor of Upper Canada, John Graves Simcoe.  The white sand bluffs in east Toronto overlooking Lake Ontario, on which The Garden stands, reminded her of the bluffs in Scarborough, England.    

Look closely while on Kingston Road or you may not see it.  The telephone number at the park is (416) 392-8186.
Looking out over the emerald waters of Lake Ontario you can see tomorrow.

Post Script.

On December 7, 2009, I received the following from Mr. Bill West about Rosetta McClain Gardens.  Needless to state I was thrilled.  I want to share with the readers the wonderful  story Mr. West  tells. 

David Williams.

Mr. West to me: 

“Very recently, I came across your photos and story on the internet regarding the Rosetta McClain Gardens in Scarborough. You state that you have been unsuccessful in your attempts to contact either Robert Watson McClain, Rosetta's husband, or their son John McClain. That is because both died many years ago.

“My name is William West, (although I prefer to be called Bill), and Rosetta McClain was my late father's only sister. Let me tell you a few things that may be of interest.

“My grandfather Thomas West, (Rosetta's father), originally purchased the Scarborough site on which the Gardens now sit, in 1904 or 1905. The historical plaque at the site refers to him as "Thomas McDonald West". In fact, there was no "McDonald" in his name, - he was simply "Thomas West".

“He bought the original property from the "Rump" family, not the "Rumph" family as stated on the plaque. (I have copies of some of the articles of sale regarding that transaction, and can only assume that when making up the historical plaque someone thought "Rumph" was more dignified than "Rump").

“Thomas then divided his property into four reasonably equal shares, - each running from Glen Everest Road on the north to the bluffs on the south.

“The shares then were owned as follows;

“On the east,         -  by his son William N. West.
Next to the west,  -  by Rosetta (West) McClain.
Next to the west,  -  by Thomas West himself.
Next to the west,  -  by his son Joseph M. West.

“My father, Howard T. West, was many years younger than his brothers and sister, - in fact was only 16 or 17 years old in 1904 or 1905, and thus was not deeded a share at that time. Eventually, upon the death of his parents, he inherited the share that had been theirs, which was surrounded on the east by Rosetta and her husband, and on the west by his brother Joseph.

“The three brothers all worked together at the safe manufacturing company, J. & J. Taylor Limited, which Thomas had purchased some years before,  -  and my father and mother while getting along very well with the other family members, nonetheless decided that they'd rather live apart from them,  -  and thus sold their share to Rosetta and her husband Wat, who were eager to buy it and thus double the size of their share. Dad offered to split his piece between Rosetta and Joseph, but Joseph didn't want any of it, while Rosetta and Wat were happy to take it all.

“Rosetta and Wat had only one child, son John, who never married. Thus there were no grandchildren. Rosetta died on November 4th, 1940, at the age of 70. (The historical plaque incorrectly states that she died in December, 1940). Their only son, John, contracted leukemia and died on January 21st, 1955. Thus Wat found himself, almost 88 years of age, with no heirs.

“Wat was a very kind and generous man, - a member of the Rotary Club of Toronto for many many years, - and responsible for many charitable projrcts undertaken by that club during that time. He loved his home in Scarborough on the bluffs, and he was determined that the people of Scarborough should enjoy it in perpetuity after he was gone. Thus he approached the Scarborough Council, and offered to give it to them upon his death. But he was firm with them, that they must agree in writing to keep it as a park, open to the public, and never sell it to a developer, or anyone else.

“This caused some concern among the members of the Council, because they correctly realized that if they accepted his offer, they would be faced with the cost of maintaining it in perpetuity. However, happily a deal was struck, and Wat gave them a one-time payment in addition to the property itself. (I don't know how much he paid them).

“Speaking personally, I know that he and Rosetta, and their son John, would be thrilled to see what the City has done with the property. They have acquired what was originally Joseph's, and perhaps a little more than that to the west. It's possible that they have also acquired some to the east, which was originally William's. (William died in 1940, and much of his property was developed as a street before Wat made his gift to the people of Scarborough).

“Wat made his gift in 1959, at the age of 92, and he died in 1961, at the age of 94.

"If you have walked through the Gardens, you will have noticed the memorial stones commemorating many of his favourite dogs. That's typical of my remembrance of him, - I'm sure the dogs all loved him, as he loved them.

I hope you find this of interest.


Bill West”.