Alan Howard – When cars drove across the ice to the Island

When cars drove across the ice to the Island

from the Telegram, July 1, 1967

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  • Created by: Alan Howard, the Toronto Telegram Centennial Supplement
  • Date: 1967-07-01
  • Provenance: From the collection of Ted English, digitized by Eric Zhelka
  • Notes:

ΤΗΕ SΙΧΤΗ Decade 1917-27
the mountain is to the Montrealer, the Island once was to the people of Toronto. In the roaring 20s, those whacky days of prohibition, flag-pole sitters, flappers and Model Ts, Torontonians found their Summer fun at “this great marine resort” (so described in an earlier history) and on the steamers and boats that plied the lake waters. The automobile had made its appearance but city residents, pushing past the 500,000 mark, were still inhibited from overland excursions by the condition of provincial highways. “If you’d ever been in a Model T over a detour — and there were miles of detours — well, it was quite an experience,” recalls Alan Howard, 52, curator of the Marine Museum of Upper Canada. Because his father was in charge of the Island Filtration Plant, Alan Howard moved as a tot to the Island in 1918 and lived there until 1959.
Cold trips
“There were about 110 people who lived there all year, spread out in a straggling community from Hanlan’s Point to Ward’s Island. It was really like a small northern community, far removed from the city.
“There was a single-room school where one teacher taught nine grades. There was a great pot-bellied stove that would get red-hot…a very cosy atmosphere. The ‘conveniences’, were at the foot of the school yard, which made it a pretty cold trip in winter.” There were all the advantages of a small community, yet the “big city” was just a tug trip away. First steamer sailing of the season, early in May, Torontonians acted like “children let out of School.” “They all had to get out and take a trip…it didn’t matter if it was cloudy or even snowing. Everyone put on his greatcoat and muffler and away they went.” Until the opening of the Welland Canal in 1932, Toronto Bay always froze solid during the winter. The elite of Toronto used the islands as a summer base…“the cream Of Toronto
of Bay St.,
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When cars drove across the ice
society, the Heintzmans, the Sweatmans…the list of residents used to read like a Who’s Who.” In winter, they would drive their cars across the ice to inspect their vacation homes. One of the great sports was ice boating, and the Durnan family at Hanlan’s Point had boats for hire. “These would be ranged in a great fleet outside the Harbor Commissioner’s Building, just west right on the waterfront.
“You’d wrap yourself in a great buffalo robe and away you would go for a quick Spin around the bay. Visiting notables were always taken on such a trip.” Alan Howard recalls that if the wind was right, you could cross the Bay in exactly a minute. During the height of the summer, the Island popula
tion would reach about 8,000. And Sunday visitors would Swell this number to vast proportions.
Hanlan’s Point was the great amusement park of Toronto. In order to transport all the picnic-packing travelers, a fleet of ferries would gather, perhaps three in the slip, with another two waiting out in the Bay. There were two roller coasters. And the ferris wheel always paused midturn to offer a view of the city and waterfront. People were so bound to water travel that it was the fashionable thing to go to the CNE by ferry, boarding at the foot of Yonge st. Marathon swims were popular events…Mr. Howard remembers attending the great Wrigley marathon: “One of the swimmers was blind.”
A memory: skating to school
Foster Hewitt was announcing the end of the race from the steamer Macassa. “Well, when the winning swimmer crossed the line, poor Foster was completely drowned out by the great blasts of salute from the Macassa’s whistle.”
It was Alan Howard’s father who helped the city to acquire its reputation for pure drinking water. He conducted a lengthy research program which resulted in the p r o c e s s known as super-chlorination. Toronto was the first city to use it. Since then, it has been adopted by most major cities in the world.
Bec a use Dr. Howard had been reluctant to move to the Island, the city offered all kinds of inducements. This meant that the Howards were the only residents to have their own water pipeline. Islanders would fill their water cans at the Howards’ backyard stand-pipe.
Early telephone lines were all party lines and Mr. Howard recalls his father being “beside himself” as he waited for island gossips to get off the line . . . particularly one woman who gave interminable medical counsel over the phone.
Alan Howard graduated from the Island school to the University of Toronto Schools on Bloor st. Before heavy Snow drifted over the ice, he could skate through the Island lagoons, then across the Bay, a total distance of about two miles, change into his boots, and off to school. “I was the envy of every boy in School.” There were other delights. Alan Howard’s parents were great theatre-goers. Shea’s Vaudeville, later to become the Victoria Theatre, at Richmond and Victoria Sts., was the home of vaudeville, with “regulars’ like Al Jolson and Jack Benny. One of Benny’s standard jokes was to have someone in the third row jump up and say: “Mr. Benny, you know I came clean from Hamilton to see you!” and the comedian would retort: “Nobody ever came clean from Hamilton.” to the island
Although Alan Howard was too young to become a patron, there were two burlesque houses, the Star (later the Empire) on Temperance, and the Gaiety on Richmond st. “Everybody tried to go on Monday night to see the unexpurgated version before the police-censors decided what should be eliminated.” The coming of talking pictures eventually sounded the death knell of vaudeville. But it took time before filmmakers produced a smooth product. Alan Howard attended the first sound film, The Broadway Melody, at the Belsize Theatre (later the Crest). “At least four times, the speech wasn’t synchronized with the action . . . it was uproarious, first you had the lips moving to the accompaniment of utter silence and then out would come the speech in the middle of a dance routine!”

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