Category: Glendenning/Glendinning

Who was Walter Glendinning?

There is a plaque in St. Andrews Presbyterian Church cemetery, Scarborough, Ontario commemorating the community’s pioneer settlers David Thompson, his wife Mary Glendinning, and Walter Glendinning. 

David and Mary are still well remembered in Scarborough, but Walter Glendinning is not. I wondered whether he was Mary’s brother — and my three-times great-grandfather. 

Many of Scarborough’s early settlers came from Westerkirk, Dumfriesshire, or from other areas of lowland Scotland. Many of them were related to, or friends of, the Thompsons, and likely immigrated to Canada thanks to the pioneer couple’s encouragement. Mary’s brother James Glendinning immigrated to Streetsville, Ontario and her brother William settled in New Brunswick.

JH photo

Mary’s brother Walter (1770 – ?) married Elizabeth Park in 1794. The couple had nine children, most of whose baptismal records can be found in the old parish registers of the Church of Scotland in Westerkirk. There is evidence from marriage, death and census records that at least six of these people lived in Scarborough.

The children of Walter and Elizabeth were:

James Glendinning, b. 1796 Westerkirk, m. Eliza Jane Wilkinson, farmer Scarborough, concession II, lot 23; d. 1861, Scarborough. (St Andrews Cemetery)
Janet Glendinning, b. 1798  Westerkirk, no further info.
Andrew Glendinning, b. 1800 Westerkirk, no further info.
William Glendinning, b. 1802 Westerkirk, m. Elizabeth Borthwick, farmed with brother Archibald, concession I, lot 29, Scarborough.
Archibald Glendinning, b. 1804, m. Jean Stobo, 1834; Scarborough farmer, concession I, lot 29; store owner, postmaster, community volunteer, d. 1883, Scarborough. (St. Andrews Cemetery)
John Glendinning, b. 1807, Westerkirk, m. Margaret Whiteside, Scarborough, farmer lot 35, concession 5, d. 1855. My direct ancestor. (St Andrews Cemetery)
Walter Glendinning, b. 1809, Westerkirk, no further info.
Isabel Glendinning, b. 1814, Westerkirk, d. 1832, Scarborough, age 17. (St Andrews Cemetery)
Margaret Glendinning, b. 1819, Westerkirk, m. Andrew Bertram, Toronto, 1839, farmer, lived in Scarborough and Innisfil, Simcoe. I do not have other information about her.

Before I started researching this family, I wondered whether just the younger generation immigrated, or whether Walter and Elizabeth also came to Canada. Assuming that the family immigrated together in the mid-1820s, the youngest of the children would have been quite small, so it seems unlikely that the parents would have stayed behind in Scotland.

It usually took settlers several years of farming rented property before they had enough money to buy their own land. Members of the Glendinning family bought their first land in 1829, so they had probably been in Canada for a few years at that time.

The Ontario land records show that William Glendinning purchased part of Concession I Lot 29 and half of Concession I Lot 30 in 1829. Meanwhile, Archibald Glendinning purchased the other half of Concession I Lot 30 in 1829 and, much later, in 1861, he purchased Concession I Lot 28. My direct ancestor John Glendinning purchased Concession V Lots 34 and 35 in 1850. There is no record of Walter Glendinning buying land, so perhaps he lived on a rented farm, or perhaps he lived with one of his sons.

The 1837 directory of the City of Toronto and the Home District listed five Glendinnings in Scarborough. Walter was listed on Concession 1, lot 28, however, it is not clear whether this was Walter the father or the son. The directory only listed household heads and there was no census taken in these early years of settlement.

There was also a mention of a Walter Glendinning in the records of St. Andrews Presbyterian Church, dated July 1, 1837, suspending him from the sacrament.

The main problem is that I have not found death records for Walter Glendinning the father, or for his wife Elizabeth Park. If they were buried in St. Andrews Presbyterian Church Cemetery in Scarborough, their grave has disappeared. If they died before the children left Scotland, they probably could not afford a gravestone.

As for Walter the son, he may have died young in Scotland, he may have accompanied the family to Scarborough, or he may have moved elsewhere.

In the meantime, my tentative conclusion to the question, who was Walter Glendinning the pioneer, is that it was Mary’s brother and my direct ancestor. 

See also:

Janice Hamilton, Writing Up the Ancestors, “The Glendinnings of Scarborough,”

Notes and Footnotes

The basic genealogy of this family is thanks to Ian Glendinning of Aberdeen, Scotland, who has put together an extensive family tree of the Glendinnings from Westerkirk

George Walton, City of Toronto and the Home District Commercial Directory and Register with almanac and calendar for 1837;

St. Andrews Presbyterian Cemetery (Bendale), Scarborough, Ontario. A genealogical reference listing. Ontario Genealogical Society, Toronto Branch. 1988 and 1993. (There are two Walter Glendinnings included in the transcriptions of gravestones at St. Andrews Cemetery, but neither of them is this Walter. They are: Walter Glendinning, son of James and Eliza; and Walter Glendinning, d. 1892, and his wife Isabella Robertson; he was born 1849 in Scarborough, son of Archibald.) 

Thanks also to Rick Scholfield, archivist at the Scarborough Archives.

The Glendinning Family of Scarborough

Mary Glendinning (1768-1847), wife of David Thomson (1763-1834), was known as the Mother of Scarborough, Ontario.1 When the couple settled there in 1799, they were the first permanent European residents of the future Toronto suburb. David, a stone mason as well as a farmer, was often away working, leaving Mary at home to do the household chores and raise their 11 children.2

In addition to her role as mother to her own children and symbolic mother of this pioneer farming community, Mary was also aunt to my two-times great-grandfather, John Glendinning, and his siblings, and that family eventually followed Mary from Scotland to Scarborough.

Mary and David Thomson came to Upper Canada in 1796.3 At first they lived in Newark (now Niagara-on-the-Lake) with David’s brother Archibald. In 1797, they moved to York, as Toronto was then known, where David had a contract to build Governor Simcoe’s new government houses, while  Mary took in sewing. But York was in a marshy area near Lake Ontario and Mary complained it was damp and unhealthy, so the family took the old trail used by the native people east from the town until they found a spot they liked near Highland Creek, Scarborough Township. There, they began clearing trees, built a log house and planted crops.

Thomson Memorial in St. Andrews Presbyterian Church Cemetery (see Note 1 below)

The Thomsons were originally from Westerkirk parish, Dumfriesshire, in the southwest of Scotland. They must have written enthusiastic letters to their relatives back home, telling them of the fertile farmland available in Upper Canada. For people like the Glendinnings, who had been tenant farmers and labourers for generations and had no hope of ever owning land in Scotland, immigration offered a unique chance to own property.

Very few immigrants were able to join the Thomsons until after the Napoleonic Wars (1799-1815) ended. This series of international conflicts made it very difficult for civilians to cross the Atlantic. When peace came, not only did travel become easier, but an economic depression in Great Britain pushed more people to take a chance on starting new lives abroad.4

Mary’s sisters Lilas and Jane and her brother John remained in Scotland, but her brother James Glendinning and his family settled in Streetsville, in Upper Canada, and brother William went to New Brunswick.5 Another brother, Walter Glendinning (b. 1770), and his wife, Elizabeth Park, probably immigrated to Scarborough, probably around 1820 .6 Their children – Mary’s nieces and nephews – unquestionably immigrated, since there are records of their births in Dumfriesshire and their marriages and deaths in Scarborough.

According to Ian Glendinning, compiler of the online Glendinning family tree (, Walter and Elizabeth Glendinning’s children were:

James, b. Westerkirk, 1796; m. Eliza Jane Wilkinson; d. Scarborough, 1861
Janet b. Westerkirk, 1798
Andrew, b. Westerkirk, 1800
William, b. Westerkirk, 1802; m. Elizabeth Borthwick, 1830; d. Scarborough, 1842
Archibald, b. Westerkirk, 1804; m. Jean Stobo, 1834; d. Scarborough, 1883
John, b. Westerkirk, 1807; m Margaret Whiteside, 1833; d. Scarborough, 1855
Walter, b. Westerkirk, 1809
Isabel, b. Westerkirk, 1814; d. Scarborough, 1832
Margaret, b. c. 1819, Scotland; m. Andrew Bertram; d. before 1861

When the Thomsons arrived in Scarborough in 1799, the government granted land to settlers for free, although people had to improve the land before they received title to it. Many of the people who received land in Scarborough’s early days were Loyalists, but few of them actually lived there or cleared the land for farming. Most of the early property owners rented out and eventually sold the land at a profit to later immigrants, like the Glendinnings. The Glendinnings would have rented until they could afford to purchase their farms.

A Toronto directory published in 1837showed five Glendinning households in Scarborough: Walter on Concession I lot 28; Archibald and William both on Concession I lot 29 (the brothers shared the farm and Archibald had additional business interests, including the first store in the area); John on Concession V, lot 35; and James on Concession II, lot 23. 

Ontario land title records8 confirm that members of the Glendinning family did eventually buy their farms. In 1829, William Glendinning and Archibald Glendinning purchased Concession I lots 29 and 30 from John Richardson. In 1850, John Glendinning bought lots 34 and 35 on Concession V from Thomas Street and, in 1861, Archibald Glendinning bought Concession I lot 28 from Kings College. Finally, they achieved their dreams of land ownership.

See Also:

Janice Hamilton, “The Glendinnings of Westerkirk”,, Dec. 3, 2016,

Janice Hamilton, “Isabella Hamilton the North-West Rebellion,”, Nov. 8, 2013,
(Isabella (Glendenning) Hamilton, daughter of John Glendinning and Margaret Whiteside, was my great-grandmother.)

Notes and Sources

  1. There is a monument, erected in 1921, in St. Andrews Presbyterian Church Cemetery, Scarborough, “to the memory of Mary Thomson, the Mother of Scarborough, who died the 8th of Nov. 1847, aged 80 years.” The inscription recounts some of the hardships Mary experienced living in the wilderness, and it notes that, “as her husband, she lived and died respected, leaving behind her about 100 descendants.” The inscription across the bottom of the monument reads, “Erected to the memory of David Thomson and his wife Mary Glendinning by the descendants of David, Andrew and Archibald Thomson and Walter Glendinning, the pioneer settlers of Scarborough. May the memory of their immortal courage inspire us in the difficult paths of life.” I assume the Walter Glendinning mentioned in this inscription was Mary’s brother (and my three-times great-grandfather). Source: St. Andrews Presbyterian Church Cemetery (Bendale), Scarborough, Ontario. Transcribed by the Ontario Genealogical Society, Toronto Branch, 1988 and 1993.
  2. Robert R. Bonis, ed. A History of Scarborough, Scarborough: Scarborough Public Library, 1968; PDF, This book includes a chapter on the early pioneers of Scarborough, including the Thomsons.
  3. David Thomson’s brother Archibald was the first member of the Thomson family to come to North America, settling in New York State in 1773. He remained loyal to the British during the American Revolution and moved to Canada after the war, eventually settling in Scarborough. David’s other brother, Andrew, also immigrated to Canada and lived on the farm next to David and Mary.  
  4. Peter Aitchison and Andrew Cassell, The Lowland Clearances: Scotland’s Silent Revolution, 1760-1830, East Linton, Scotland: Tuckwell Press Ltd, 2003. This book describes the wave of emigration from the lowlands of Scotland because the landlords wanted to clear the tenant farmers off the land, enclose the fields with fences and raise cattle.  This was not exactly the situation in Dumfriesshire, however, the book puts the family’s decision to leave their homeland into historical context.
  5. The home page of Ian Glendinning’s family tree is
    Mary Glendinning, # 51, and her brother Walter, # 52, are fourth generation,; Walter’s children, who immigrated to Upper Canada and married there, are the fifth generation on this tree.
  6. History of Toronto and the County of York Ontario, Volume II, Toronto: C. Blackett Robinson, publisher, 1885, p. 270.  This book states that Archibald Glendinning (Walter’s son, b. 1804) arrived in 1820, and other later publications repeat that date, but there is no evidence it is accurate and not just someone’s guess. I have not yet found death records for father Walter Glendinning or his wife Elizabeth, so I cannot confirm that they came to Upper Canada, but it is very likely they did so since their children were very young in 1820, when the family is said to have arrived. Also, Walter had a son Walter (b, 1809), so it is not clear whether the Walter Glendinning listed in an 1837 directory of the Toronto area was the father or the son.
  7. George Walton, The City of Toronto and the Home District Directory and Register with Almanack and Calendar for 1837, Toronto, U.C., printed by T. Dalton and W. J. Coates, p. 128;
  8. This information was provided by the Scarborough Historical Society archivist from microfilm of the Ontario land records.