Noel Araquel stands outside his house in the “Ben jungle” area of Scarborough’s Bendale, and recalls what it was like fifteen years ago when he first moved in.
“On a summer night there was nothing, not a sound. No kids, no dogs, nothing.”
Like so many of the city’s well-preserved post-war suburbs, Bendale has become desirable again, and families are moving back. Araquel, a photographer who works in movies and commercials, lives on Benary, one of the streets whose first three letters have given the area its name — Benroyal, Benshire, Benleigh and Benprice, as well as Ben Nevis, Ben Alden, Ben Stanton, Ben Doran and Ben Nevis, not to mention Benorama, Benlight, Benlark and Benhur.
“Cops get lost in here,” he says, adding that no one, in all the time he’s lived here, has ever been able to explain the origin of the names.
You’d think this is the sort of place that sprung up out of woodlots and farmers’ fields, but it turns out Bendale has a long history as Araquel takes me on a drive down a twisting road, past an old farmhouse behind a curved dirt driveway, to an old church and schoolhouse next to a churchyard full of weathered gravestones.
“I never used to care about history much in school,” Araquel tells me, but living in the area has given him an enthusiasm for local history, much of it springing from the Thomson family, Scots Presbyterians who built the farmhouse and gave land for the schoolhouse, church and the graveyard next door where many of them are buried. They ultimately gave their name to Thomson Memorial Park, which snakes through Bendale behind Scarborough General Hospital, and which contains a tiny pioneer village of three buildings maintained by the very active Scarborough Historical Society.
The park is probably the only place where people walk, he tells me — like most suburbs, “it’s still all about the driving.” Scarborough Town Centre and Cedarbrae Mall are the local hot spots, and people will drive as far away as Markham to shop, though old school locals still frequent the 50s vintage strip malls. Araquel takes me to the Bendale Restaurant, a picture perfect diner on Lawrence, and the aptly-named Suburban on McCowan.
“This is where I got my hair cut when I moved here,” he tells me as we walk to Tony’s, a barbershop around the corner from the Suburban, next to a shoe repair place and a used book shop. It’s well-worn and quaint, and the halal butchers, Filipino grocers and curry takeout places that have moved in don’t seem like anachronisms. The streets might be livelier than they used to be, Araquel says, but it’s still a quiet neighbourhood.
“You sleep so easily here.”