Down the Bluffs with Doris McCarthy

3 November 2016 – Finally on the Doris McCarthy Trail! We found it in spring — and also found it closed for restoration. Grrr. It has now reopened, and we are back. (Thanks to Phyllis’ perseverance, I must add.)

I knew of the artist Doris McCarthy; even, decades back, attended a showing of her works at which she was present (though I was too shy to approach her). I also knew vaguely that she had long lived out on the Scarborough Bluffs.

Now the artist and the place come together beneath our feet, as we start down the gravelled trail. Signs warn cyclists to dismount, to respect the steep slope.

partway down the Trail, with Lake Ontario already visible

Not that steep, we agree, as we march on down, Lake Ontario already in view.

The day is sunny-cloudy, but not raining, so we are content. And anyway, how could you not be content, with views like this?

view west, from foot of Doris McCarthyTrail

Down there in the distance to the west, Leslie Spit. Up close, rusty fall colours in the shrubbery. Linking the two, great striated bands of glacial material, layer on layer, North America’s most complete record of Pleistocene geology.

Smack at the foot of the Doris McCarthy Trail, a sculpture.

Passage, by Marlene Hilton Moore

Passage, it is called, and it is perfect. The work of Marlene Hilton Moore, a tribute to both Doris McCarthy and the Bluffs she loved so much. We peer down the ribs …


see two columns of dates along the spine, & rush back to the plaque for help.

One column tracks major events in the life of Doris McCarthy, from birth (1910) to years training in & then teaching art, to her 12-acre purchase of land on the Bluffs (1939) and subsequent establishment of first a cottage & then a permanent home on the site (Fool’s Paradise, 1946), her travels & honours as an artist, her induction into the Order of Canada (1987), her donation of Fool’s Paradise to the Ontario Heritage Trust (1998), & her death, age 100, in 2010. Fittingly, the Trust now runs her beloved home as the Doris McCarthy Artist-in-Residence Centre.

The other column tracks major events in the life of the Scarborough Bluffs. It starts a little earlier: 23,000 B.C., when Lake Iroquois is first formed.

We amble westward on the lakeside trail, enjoying the warmth, the breeze, nature’s extravagant textures.

heading west along Lake Ontario, from foot of Doris McCarthy Trail

And, oh, in a while, the path successively narrows and finally ends.

Scarborough Bluffs, looking west

We turn back, explore our way to the east; explore, too, what else is on offer, along with those sweeping vistas.

Rocks, for example, along the beach …

beach rock

and beautifully crafted little bird nests …

at path's edge

and, of course!, an inukshuk, out on a point.

inukshuk, beyond the tree

Finally we loop back once again to Passage …

marking the foot of the Doris McCarthy Trail

and head back up the Doris McCarthy Trail to the city streets of Scarborough.

It is, we agree, much steeper to climb than to descend!




Leave a comment


  1. Larry Webb

     /  3 November 2016

    Hi Penny.

    Fascinating – never been on this trail nor seen this sculpture. Thanks.

    By the way, that would not be the Leslie Street Spit in that picture. One should never say the word “never,. but you would never be able to see it from there and it would be a lot further away – that would simply be Bluffers Park at the foot of Midland Avenue.

    Best to you, L

    Larry Webb

    (416) 508-1291

    • I’m glad to introduce you to that sculpture — and they’ve just reopened the trail, so no wonder you haven’t been on it yet. It’s short — just a quick zip down to the lakeshore.

  2. I think I’ve commented before on how good you are at shaping your posts. This time you frame with steepness (or otherwise); and you also pace the treasures along the way beautifully. Thanks for introducing me to Doris McCarthy. I like the two timelines, and reality like the clarity of shape of her paintings. I will NOT long for Potato Point, although when I do return watch out coastline.

  3. Another great walk!

  4. I met her when I was a member of the Scarborough Artist’s Guild. It was twenty years ago. She had just come back from the arctic with her friend/student. (I can’t remember her name!) They gave a slide show presentation, Doris didn’t do much of the talking but she very candid and funny when she did speak. They were on a ship, that’s how they got up there. It was summer but still freezing. I don’t think I could survive that at any age!
    I remember one photo of Doris sitting on frigid scape looking out at what looked like one of her paintings, an iceberg I think. I wish I could remember more about it. (She was a devotee of Lauren Harris?) The group got together monthly and would quarterly have a judge for their juried shows. I think she was part of the jury that night but I could be wrong. I did speak to her but can’t remember anything that was said. I was not previously aware of her celebrity. I am generally clueless but at the time even more so?

    • How lucky to have that memory, thanks for telling me – & everyone else. Most events have different meanings for us over time as our own experience & awareness grow, what’s so good here is that you did remember that experience & can now add more appreciation to it – that’s the best any of us can do!

  5. I was lucky enough to spend last August living at Fool’s Paradise, Doris’s former home atop the Bluffs, as artist in residence, thanks to Doris and Ontario Heritage Trust. I became fascinated by all things Doris, and have subsequently written a children’s book manuscript about her (for which I’m trying to find a publisher:) Thanks for the read and the pictures.


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    "Traveller, there is no path. Paths are made by walking" -- Antonio Machado (1875-1939)

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