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The amazing Rosetta Gardens at the edge of the cliff

Updated: Jan 24, 2023


WHAT'S IN IT FOR YOU? The lovely landscape on a 23 acres land + an ocean view (OK, it's a lake, but just look at this endless horizon!)


Apparently there is a Canadian Garden Council, founded in 2014. And a Canadian Nursery and Landscape Association. Which is celebrating its 100th anniversary this year! And they have declared 2022 the Year of the Garden!


So it's a good time to suggest a stroll through Rosetta McClain Gardens in Scarborough. When I visited end of April, buds were barely hatching so I could focus on the beauty of the branches.


Note that my photos were taken at different times fo the year. The gardens are open year-round and ever-changing.


Who was Rosetta?


She was the daughter of the original owner, Thomas McDonald West, who bought this cliffside land in 1904 and divided it among his four children. Rosetta's husband, Robert Watson McClain, and her brother, Joseph McDonald, were also involved in the development of the gardens.


Following Rosetta's death in 1940, her husband donated the estate to the City of Toronto in 1959. Her brothers also donated adjacent land. Rosetta McClain Gardens now covers 23 acres (about the size of 23 American soccer fields).


From Kingston Road, you can access the free parking lot at Rosetta McClain Gardens (5 Glen Everest Rd, Scarborough), by turning onto Glen Everest at the traffic lights.


You could easily tour the gardens in 15 minutes, but there is so much to admire that it is best to give yourself an hour for the visit. Note that dogs are not allowed in this park. And the locals will let you know in no uncertain way.


Up above…


In the middle of the gardens await circular flowerbeds around large boulders toped with a bubbling fountain. This little corner is a favorite of newlyweds.





The site is perched on top of a cliff, giving you an unobstructed view of Lake Ontario, 60 meters below. It is easy to imagine that you are overlooking the ocean. The horizon is endless and under the sun, the lake often takes on surprising turquoise hues.



It is nice to take a short walk in the section west of the central landscape. Chances are you’ll meet meditative walkers, families picnicking or napping, and readers enjoying the sun.


On the public benches, you can read messages in tribute to loved ones, including the touching one about Catherine “now flying with the butterflies”… Awww. (Mental note to mention this one to my husband, just in case)





In the eastern part of the large park, the winding trail passes through mature trees (beautiful in the fall), which filter a very different light. Here and there, you can see signs on the branches announcing the tree names.


In the northeast corner of Rosetta is an elegant vine-covered trellis, next to a huge rose garden. West of the roses, beyond the gazebo, are the romantic ruins of the old McClain home.






Nearby, find the access to the street and turn right onto Glen Everest Road.


… and down below


Then take the old closed road on your right (between the garden plots and Fisherleigh Drive) to go down to the beach. Note that it is on a slope and can be slippery when wet. Don’t forget to save your energy for the return trip!


Huge boulders create wave breaker walls. Tall grass runs along the hillside facing the beach. In 10 minutes, you'll reach the white cliffs carved in such a way that they were given the name Cathedral Bluffs. A surreal sight in a big city like Toronto.




While you're there


The Birchcliff (1680 Kingston Road, open 8 am to 4 pm weekdays and 8 am to 5 pm on weekends), is a great meeting point and elegant destination before or after that walk. It's a 10-minute walk from Rosetta Gardens, features a large outdoor patio and plenty of indoor tables. They serve light lunches, delicious treats and good lattes. Plus, they open an ice cream bar in the summer.



Its newest neighbour, Grayson's Rustic Bakery (1672 Kingston Rd), announced that it will be opening soon at the time of this writing. This bakery promises decadent cinnamon buns, tempting foccacia breads and take-out coffees, among other things, perfect for a take-out to enjoy at Rosetta.


The House and Garden Co. (1660 Kingston Road, a few houses west of the cafe), is a lovely florist/boutique filled with treasures to adorn gardens and patios.


Note that you're in the Birch Cliff neighbourhood, which explains the birch tree theme murals found all around the area. Charming little branding!




This post is a complement to local author Nathalie Prézeau's latest walking guide: Toronto BEST Urban Strolls available in Toronto’s major bookstores, on torontourbangems.com/shop and amazon.ca or indigo.ca. We also deliver or contact the author directly at nathalie@torontourbangems.com to arrange for a pick up with a discount at 299 Booth Avenue, in Leslieville.







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