West Hill and its neighbouring “lost” village, Highland Creek (featured two weeks ago) share a common early history. Both villages were located strategically along Kingston Road and adjacent to Highland Creek, a source of power for early mills. While suburban sprawl and the widening of Highway 2 (Kingston Road) removed much of the community’s built heritage, there is much to be seen just steps away from the modern throughfare. Thanks partly to its size, West Hill still carries on as the name of the Kingston-Morningside neighbourhood, lending its name to a nearby plaza, a high school and other community institutions.
West Hill (named as such as it was on the west side of the Highland Creek valley) was officially established as a post office in 1879, but developed into a large, yet unincorporated, village in the late 19th century separately from the older Highland Creek. It had its own hotels, post office and community structures. And in 1906, West Hill, like Highland Creek distant from mainline railways, was linked to Toronto by the Scarboro Division of the Toronto and York Radial Railway network, This gave the community the status of a minor transportation hub and encouraged further growth. But highway improvements, ubiquity of the private automobile and the replacement of slow stagecoaches with new gasoline buses changed everything. The TTC took over the old Scarboro radial in 1927 and replaced with its own Grey Coach buses east of Scarborough Post Office (Markham Road) in 1930 (and from there to Birchmount Avenue in 1936). The 86 Scarborough bus route, rerouted to connect with the Bloor-Danforth subway instead of the streetcar, still serves this area, the direct legacy of the old radial.
But as the automobile took over, motels and tourist cabins began to dominate the eastern entrance to Toronto, just as on the west side, the (in)famous motel strip centered at the point where the Queen Elizabeth Way met Lake Shore Boulevard near the Humber River. These new roadside conveniences replaced the old village taverns that relied on the stagecoach and farm-to-market trade. Some of these old motels, with the neon signs and 1940s and 1950s roadside architecture, still survive amidst the later commercial sprawl serving the new subdivisions and rental towers in the area.
While many of the old village buildings – the post office, the hotel and even the school – have disappeared, the construction of Highway 2A as far as Highland Creek just to the east saw a new 4-lane Kingston Road bypass the old, narrow and steep roadway to meet the new modern expressway and helped to preserve some of the old building stock. Today, over a dozen houses and two churches, and the old un-urbanized two-lane Kingston Road provide one of the strongest visual connections to Scarborough’s rural past.