The Scadding Cabin
Toronto’s Oldest House
Scadding Cabin today on the grounds of the CNE.
In August 2003, the CNE celebrated its 125th exhibition; and so did a little log cabin which was moved to the exhibition site in August, 1879. When you’re ready for a break from the hurly-burly of the midway, wend your way to just west of the bandshell and step back in time more than 200 years as you enter the dim interior of Toronto’s oldest building. The square-timbered Scadding Cabin, built in 1794, is a little oasis surrounded by a split rail fence and a re-creation of a nineteenth-century garden featuring herbs and flowers.
Visitors are welcomed by volunteers in period costumes who happily explain the cabin’s history, describe artifacts and demonstrate spinning. The volunteers are all members of one of Canada’s oldest historical groups, The York Pioneer and Historical Society (YPHS) or, as they usually call themselves, The York Pioneers.
The cabin’s first owner was John Scadding, an assistant to Upper Canada's first Lieutenant Governor, John Graves Simcoe. Scadding’s 250-acre property was on the east bank of the Don River and his log home sat near where present-day Queen Street crosses the Don Valley Parkway.
The story of how the 209-year-old cabin got from its original site on the Don to the exhibition grounds is entwined with the history of the YPHS.
In 1869, a small group of men formed the York Pioneers to preserve the pioneer history of York township. A decade later, John Smith, then owner of the Scadding property, gave the cabin to The Pioneers. As 1879 was also the beginning of the Toronto Industrial Exhibition (later renamed the CNE), the York Pioneers worked with the CNE’s founders to move the cabin to its current site to celebrate the fair’s inauguration.
How the cabin was physically moved to the CNE isn’t known, but some York Pioneers suspect the logs from the dismantled house were floated down the Don River and along the shoreline of Lake Ontario. The rebuilding of the cabin (then 85 years old) was well-documented in newspapers of the day.
York Pioneers on the way to erect their house in Exhibition Park, Toronto. August 22, 1879.
Several Pioneers met at a seed store on Adelaide Street. Holding aloft the Union Jack emblazoned with “York Pioneers”, they trundled along King Street in a wagon pulled by a team of oxen. At the exhibition grounds, they met other volunteers and the rebuilding “bee” began.
One mean-spirited article, perhaps attempting humour, described “ feeble old men attempting to raise the timber with the aid of walking sticks”. Regardless, the energetic workers, sustained with quantities of “lukewarm tea and coffee” and “five-gallon lager beer kegs”, were ready to christen “Simcoe Cabin” by 5 p.m. A bottle was broken over the cabin and a cannon fired. The Pioneers shouted themselves hoarse and one remarked “a jollier time had not been seen for 50 years”.
The building was later renamed “Scadding Cabin”, not to remember its first owner but to honour his son, Henry Scadding. Henry was a founding member and president of the YPHS for 18 years, as well as a renowned historian.
Scadding Cabin is open every day during the CNE. Admission is free, but small donations are appreciated to defray the cost of conserving the cabin. Among the small items for sale is Mrs. Scadding’s Receipt Book, and Mrs. Scadding's Receipt Book 2, a collection of nineteenth and early twentith century recipes.
(written by Audrey Hutchison Fox, originally published in “The Liberty Gleaner”, June 2003)
A quiet moment sewing, Summer 2008.