Lawrence Solman, Canada’s Uncrowned Amusement King

Lawrence Solman, Canada’s Uncrowned Amusement King

From: The Toronto Star Weekly, November 18, 1926

 

◊ Profile of the remarkable Toronto-born entrepreneur Lawrence “Lol” Solman (1866-1931), who was managing director of the Royal Alexandra Theatre, Sunnyside Amusement Park, Hanlan’s Hotel, Hanlan’s Point Amusement Park and the Mutual Street Arena in Toronto; owner of the Toronto Ferry Company and the Toronto Maple Leafs baseball club; and vice-president of Loews Canadian theatres. Born Jewish, he married Emily Hanlan, sister of rower Ned Hanlan, and was buried at Mount Pleasant Cemetery, Toronto.

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Bill Durnan, Fixture on the Islands

Bill Durnan, Fixture on the Islands
Fixture on the Toronto Islands – William Arthur “Bill” Durnan

 

FULL TEXT OF ARTICLE:
Bill Durnan, 87, Fixture on the Islands
Born, Lived, and Worked There
Last of 4 Islands Generation
Ashante Infantry, Obituary Writer

In retrospect, one’s childhood often seems idyllic. Bill Durnan recalled his as utopian.
He was born on Hanlan’s Point into an Irish family that was among the earliest settlers of the Toronto Islands.
When he was growing up — prior to World War II and the development of the island airport — people flocked to the 10,000-seat Hanlan’s Point Stadium, where baseball Keep reading →

“Ed” Durnan, Great Sculler

“Ed” Durnan, Great Sculler
Death’s Call Comes Suddenly To Former Sculling Champion, Edward “Ed” Durnan
  • Created by: Toronto Telegram
  • Date: 1928-05-28
  • Provenance: From the collection of Ted English, digitized by Eric Zhelka
  • Notes: Obituary

The Forgotten Idol – Ned Hanlan

The Forgotten Idol – Ned Hanlan
The Forgotten Idol – Ned Hanlan
  • Created by: Maclean’s Magazine, byline: Fergus Cronin
  • Date: 1953-06-01
  • Provenance: From the collection of Ted English, digitized by Eric Zhelka
  • Notes: 1880’s – “The Boy in Blue”


THE FORGOTTEN IDOL OF THE EIGHTIES
By FERGUS CRONIN
MACLEANS MAGAZINE, JUNE 1, 1953
Ned Hanlan, a chunky Toronto Islander, rose above shady promoters and fixers to bring Canada its first world Title in the days when baseball was a pup CANADIAN in Paris in 1917 was to a friendly Frenchman. “I was in Canada his way to his first big victory; in several of his suspected; and even shortly before his death in 1908 a local storm blew up about whether he should be appointed Toronto’s harbor master. hockey and baseball are today. And for betting, it can only be compared to horse racing. Ten and twenty thousand people would turn out to Lake St. Louis, the Welland Canal, Kempenfeldt Bay or the St. John River to watch the giants of those days fight it out with sculls. And Ha f those giants, measured only five feet, eight and three quarter inches and weighed about one hundred and fifty pounds. Known throughout the world as Ned, he became champion sculler of Canada at twenty-two, at twenty-four and at twenty-five, champion of the world. We over him, scarves bearing his picture were the rage, snuffboxes, ties, shirts and belts were sold with Ned’s name or picture on them. The second son of John Hanlan, a Kingston boatbuilder who became the first leaseholder on Toronto Island, Ned was born on July 12, 1855. His first attempt with outriggers was made in a novel craft he designed and built himself: a two sharpened at both ends and equipped Amateur championship of Toronto Bay and won. for the next eleven years, until he hit the downgrade at twenty-nine, he took part in about three The sliding seat had made its appearance in racing shells in 1871, allowing the oarsmen to get a longer sweep-in effect, lengthening the arms and the stroke. Hanlan became known as “the father – it in a single-seat shell and mastered its use. – In 1874 Hanlan met and beat Thomas Loudon in a race for the championship of Burlington Bay, as Hamilton Bay was them called. (Loudon was the great-uncle of Thomas R. Loudon. professor at the University of Toronto, who was the Canadian in Paris in 1917, mentioned above.) was launched when two lengths. The same season he won the governor general’s medal for a two-mile race at Toronto, and championship of Ontario, his oniy opponent being William McKen. The big regatta on the horizon at that time was to be held in Philadelphia in May 1876, to celebrate the centennial of the Declaration of Independence. McKen had been planning to compete, but decided it looked so good as a money proposition that he teamed up with Hanlan, Ned doing the training and McKen placing bets in the poolrooms at night. Hanlan almost failed to get away from Toronto. He had sold some liquor on the island without a Or hìS arre ? permit and a warrant for his arrest was issued tw days before he was due to leave. Friends he about it, and that night he was hidden in a friend’s house e following day police cornered him in the Toronto Rowing managed to lude them, hopped into a skiff an ? ter a just leaving for Lewiston, N.Y. Police spotted him skimming away, but his reputation as an oarsman discouraged pursuit. In the first heat of the centennial race Hanlan. d in the second he defeated the next best oars . By this time the gamblers had lost so heavily they were looking for Hanlan. McKen and Hanlan together and McKen would leave Hanlan in bed at nights while he made the rounds of the taverns, so many mistook McKen for Hanlan. g im and he was taken back to Toronto on a stretcher, suffering from violent poisoning. Hanlan not only won the single sculls at Philadelphia, beating the best oarsmen of America and a couple from England, but he did it in a record time. the bright-eyed, pink-cheeked, curly-haired little fellow tops in the sport He rowed in a blue shirt, and thereafter he always “the Boy in Blue.” – Hanlan’s triumphant return to Toronto was in direct contrast to his ignominious departure. A huge crowd gathered at the dockside to meet his steamer. Ned ized and seated atop the larg est hook-and-ladder wagon Toronto owned, and Hail to the champion sculler! Toronto’s manly son, Who across the line, and on the Tyne Hath famous victories won… For the next eight years the world was Hanlan’s oyster. A host of supporters sprang up to form the Hanlan Club, putting up an initial twenty dollars apiece to pay Hanlan’s expenses and bet on his races. The charter membership included the U. S. consul, Col. Albert Shaw. Ned t yet the official Canadian champion. Alex Brayley, who had been favored for the Philadelphia race, returned Continued on Years after his crowd. was presentation to Canada and was beaten for the Canadian title by Wallace Ross, of Saint John. Ross then challenged Hanlan to mile event, the usual championship distance in those days. Ross was an eight-to-one favorite when the race took place on Toronto Bay, but HanA return lan won e Rothesay, N.B., the Kennebecasis River, the following has described in detail in many rowing annals. Both men, amid the wildest enthusiasm, struck the water simultaneously . . . At the half-mile mark Ross was pulling a fiery stroke of thirty seven and Hanlan a great sweep thirty-two per minute, with Hanlan a length ahead. With no increase of effort, at the mile mark Hanlan had doubled his lead. as a stroke that must have been wrenching him apart, Hanlan, after seeing that Ross was safe, went over the course… To the Canadian crown Hanlan soon I peak, Hanlan (top, left) could still draw a He’s grasping his son Gordon, who n was killed in 1917. of a silver service at City Hall. his next significant race was in Oct. 1878, at Lachine, Que. It was the first of what was to become the famous Courtney-Hanlan series. These races by cracker-barrel oarsmen. Hanlan’s honesty but, at least to the his name was later cleared. The first race against Charles E. Courtney, of Union Springs, N.Y., U. S., real. Hanlan won by a mere one and a Windsor Hotel after the race. A lot of money had been won and the following October at Chautauqua Lake, N.Y. Interest in the race became feverish. A grandstand for fifty thousand spectators was erected. An observation train half at afloat promised to follow the race never took place. The morning of the day it was scheduled, Courtney’s shell was found sawn in haif. In a book published in 1923 (Courtney and Cornell Rowing, by C.U.P. Young) it was suggested that Hanlan “whose convivial habits were well known” had imbib before the race. His backers became alarmed and tried in vain to have draw, but again Courtney refused and “before the morrow dawned those whose bribe had been spurned were avenged.” H. J. P. Good, sport writer for two Toronto papers and an origi ernber of the Hanla of six thousand dollars, the first to go †n Hanlan the third to the best man. In each instance the loser was to receive two thousand out of the purse. “The arrangement,” said Good, “was made entirely without the eonsent or knowledge of Hanlan, who, I am willing “Hanlan was then told of the arrangement,” said Good, “and his reply was that if he were not allowed to win if he could he couldn’t be hauled from the boathouse with a logging chain. Of course the Courtney party got on to the result of his trial row over the course which had been staked the boat was 39 The referee ordered Hanlan over the course on the day of th which he did, with two or three pauses, in 33:56, a time which stands to this day as the fastest for five miles with a turn. The purse was to have been given by the owner of a brewery, but he refused to pay on a “row-over.” So the pair met again on the Potomae at Washington in May 1880. In that race Courtney was so far behind at the halfway mark that he dropped out. In a tribute to Hanlan years later, James C. Rice, onetime coach of Columbia University, said: “I know personally that Hanlan was offered thirty thousand dollars to quit in a tempt to bribe him.” By 1879 Hanlan had beaten so he went to England. In May he beat John Hawdon for the champion and the followin ed William Elliott, also on . Trains brought speetators by the thousands. The crush of boats on the river made navigation almost impossible. less bet freely in small sums on their champion whom they believed invincible. Lawyer Kerr rhymed: The champions take their stations, Promptly each takes his place In the sight of all the nations Of the Anglo-Saxon race. “Now, three to one,” roared Elliott, “That I lead all the way!” And his stalwart arm and lusty form Might feebler foe dismay. But it was Hanlan’s craft Toronto that led all the way. He won by ten boat lengths and broke the record for the course by fifty-five seconds. Then from the river’s crowded banks, From roof-top, bridge and pier, Thrice thirty thousand lusty throats Sent up a mighty cheer; And many a British city Caught up the wild acclaim, And the western world from Sea to #Sea Resounded with his fame. Another civic reception was arranged home. will give an entertainment at 8 o’clock sharp. An will be presented by the Mayor about 9 o’clock, to which the Champion will Champion will appear with his boat, in full racing costume. Tickets will be sold at 50 cents no reserved seats The scene of the arrival was painted in oils by William Armstrong, and hangs still in the Toronto home of one of Hanlan’s daughters, Mrs. C. H. S. Michie. Dated July 15, 1879, it shows five old sidewheelers crowded to the ounded of little boats. On the leading steamer a tiny figure stands on a platform high in the was how the Boy in was still but one feather from the chunky sculler’s Triekett, the first Australian to have Interest in the outcome It was scheduled for it at wrote a ian newspaper from Newcastle: This meeting between Trickett and Hanlan will be the even in the rowing annais of the year—if not of the century . . . Triekett’s friends spoke of Han lan as a small man – but I reminded them of the r k made by the ferryman near Pittsburgh, that “the more clothes he takes o the bigger he gets,” and suggested that when he measured speed with their six-foot-sixer, the little m might look the larger of the two. The odds changed from two-to-one on Trickett to two-to-one on Hanlan as an estimated forty-two thousand masterful spurt. The erowds eheered and the nervy Ned drew near the bank rowing with alternate oars. Twice more Hanlan paused, once his hotel, the Bull’s Head, its fellow Hanlan had established himself as later made considerable money performing on the water. One of his best tricks was rowing with only one scull straight across the Thames and back again. d to Toronto via New played the aquatic solo.” In Toronto he was accorded another reception by mayor and citizens. The following year, 1881; he rowed on the Thames again, this time against Elias C. Laycock, of Australia, for the Sportsman Challenge Cup, and won it winning it for ail time. It is one of the most impressive cups in sporting history, standing about three feet high. It is still in the p – f Mrs. Michia A Great and Unique Skill Those were great days for the rowing game. The first official race between Y and Harvard was held in 1852, although Oxford and Cambridge had been racing on the Thames since 1829. Fortunes colorfully named Lakes Winnepesaukee, Minnetonka, Quinsagamond and Creve Coeur, the konk River, Lake Couchiching and wnyan Lake. Ned Hanlan rowed and won in them all. In 1880 there were at least a score of regattas were held at least once and sometimes twice a year. Cities like Toronto, Hamilton, Ottawa and Montreal sponsored annual regattas. Youngsters asked their parents for gigs, wherries, dinghies or common rowboats is time, rowing was largely a matter of strength; Hanlan add and was at once the master of the me. When he beat Elliott on the Tyne it was seriously suggested that he must have had a propelling machine in his boat. With air-bags and machinery, The miners stoutly held, Or by some secret influence His skiff must be propelled, For never such a sculler Of form so lithe and fine Or such modest mien, had yet been seen On the Thames or the Tyne. Some claim Hanlan was the first real champion of the world—of any v London that there was world-wid representation. Trickett challenged Hanlan in 1892 and they met on May 1 on the Thames with stakes of five hundred pounds. Hanlan won by ne a minute and a half and, after passing the turning sta e spun around an – back of tw – Trickett’s last appearance in a firstass match, and who can blame him? Standing on Lake Ontario, this $17,000 statue honors the first world champion Canada ever had. The next challenger was a dour Australian, William Beach, a blacksmith from the village of Dapto, New South r In ra ve gone because, as world champion, he could dictate the locale of the race. But he had not yet been to the southern hemisphere and the adventure appealed to his restless spirit. was written on this side of the world of his defeat by Beach. One report said gram commented, ue to unfavorable climatic politics. Hanlan’s Hotel, which he had displayed a huge collection of his trophies and souvenirs. In 1898 he was elected a Toronto alderman, was re-elected once but defeated for a third term. had married Margaret Gordon Sutherland, of Toronto, formerly of Brantford, Ont., in 1877 and they had His wife ? – ur dau rs still living: Mrs. Michie, -Margaret and Aileen Hanlan, of Toronto; and Mrs. Alfred Hafner, of Portland, Me. When Hanlan died on Jan. 4, 1908, at fifty-two, papers in every part of Canada carried editorials about him. ever moved faster than Hanlan was given a civic funeral, and probably ten thousand people filed past his bier. A death mask was taken. Years later “The last outings Ned had with shortly before his th when, on the odd Sunday morning, he’d pile on three or four old sweaters and the ’s “gig’ a walrus, then, dripping and refreshed, resume. The Boy in Blue never really grew up.” Ned Hanlan flashed across the pages of the world’s newspapers of seventy five years ago, but mementos will kee his name alive for many years yet. A six-by-ten-foot painting of him hangs a sculler in the world. It National Exhibition, looking over the waters where Ned first learned to row. In 1936 the late Dr. A. R. Carman, Star. wrote of Hanlan that “no citizen of Canada was so well known throughout the English speaking world. And Lawyer Kerr put it in verse: While Ottawa, from storied cliff, Uplifts her crown of towers; While modest merit still shall charm a of ours; So long in distant story, As time rolls on apace, Shall it be told by young and old How Hanlan won the race.

H. James Jim Watt

H. James Jim Watt
H. James ‘Jim’ Watt of Watt’s Coffee Shop
  • Created by: Globe and Mail
  • Date: 2001-11-12
  • Provenance: From the collection of Ted English, digitized by Eric Zhelka
  • Notes: Obituary


LIVES LIVED MONDAY, NOVEMBER 12, 2001
H. James Watt Haematologist, oncologist, father, sailor. Born Oct. 24, 1950, in Toronto. Died Sept. 4 in Tuscany, Italy, of cardiac arrest, aged 70.
My sister Martha says that my father wanted to be a physician from the age of 4. I once asked him if he had ever wanted to be anything else and he said, No, I like what I’m doing, and besides I’m good at it. And he was right. Dr. H. James Watt grew up on Toronto Island and attended school in a one-room schoolhouse where he accelerated twice. His parents were of Scottish/English ancestry and owned Watt’s Coffee Shop on Centre Island. Little Jimmy, as he was known, grew up peeling potatoes while his mother Dolly baked as many as 30 pies on a summer’s morning. As a teenager, Jim Watt was a member of the Island Canoe Club and began paddling competitively, finally winning the Canadian Championships in 1947. He started at Jarvis Collegiate at 11, small and terrified, but by graduation had won 1 the 1947 Optimus Jim Watt Trophy. He also won a scholarship for medical school which he entered at the unprecedented age of 16. In 1953, he opened his first practice on Toronto Island making house calls on a bicycle, charging $2 a visit. When times were tough, his patients paid him with eggs and chickens. His career at St. Joseph’s Health Centre in Toronto began in December, 1958. At 28, he was the youngest specialist on staff, specializing in both oncology and hematology. He also founded the oncology/hematology department at the health centre. During his 43-year career, Dr. H. James Watt served as Chief of Staff for six years, Chief of Medicine for 10, and was also an assistant professor of medicine at the University of Toronto from 1978 until his death. I always thought of my father as a doctor of the old school. He had a healing touch. He was kind and compassionate and lent an ear to all who were ill or in trouble. At the dinner table, he loved to discuss bone marrow transplants. He hated suffering, no doubt from having lost his own father at an early age. He rarely lost his temper, but he would become furious if the nurses had refused to give a dying patient morphine. My mother told me that he used to cry whenever his patients died.
For a man who faced death every day, he managed to cheat death more than once. He began having trouble with heart disease in the 1950s, culminating in an extensive bypass operation 18 months ago. He was not without faults, my father. He was impatient and forgetful. He was messier than a small child and way too fond of Scotch. But he loved people and had a great sense of fun. Summers he floated down the Credit River in a tube with his buddies. As an adult, he became a member of the RCYC and crewed on the Bristol Fashion. He travelled the world and Snapped a million badly focused photos. He took adversity in stride. When he was no longer able to sail, he bought a small motorized sail-boat and started the second RCYC, the “remote controlled yacht club,” with his friend George Stein.
He was married twice, initially to Janet Newman and, after her death, to Audrey Walsh. He leaves behind four children: Kelly Watt, Martha Watson, Andrew Watt, Cameron Watt, and grandson Robbie Watson.
He wanted to go out with fanfare and so, at the scattering of his ashes on Sept. 18, there was a New Orleans-style funeral procession (complete with jazz band) and a flock of white doves were set free into a blue sky. One week earlier, a memorial had been held for him at the hospital. A woman named Joyce got up to say how she had been diagnosed with cancer several years before, and, being a new arrival to Canada, did not have a health card nor the $28,000 for her treatment. My father treated her for free and saved her life. I have always adored my father but have never been more proud of him than I was in that moment. We will miss him always.
Kelly Watt is James Watt’s eldest daughter.

J. O. Ollie McCrimmon – Hound of Cherokee

J. O. Ollie McCrimmon – Hound of Cherokee
J. O. ‘Ollie’ McCrimmon – Hound of Cherokee
  • Created by: Toronto Star
  • Date: 1982-09-12
  • Provenance: From the collection of Ted English, digitized by Eric Zhelka
  • Notes: Obituary


John O. “Ollie” McCrimmon, who died Friday, was the final link with Jorious era of Toronto Island after World War I. He was 90.
McCrimmon was one of the founding members of a red-blooded fraternity of young men who set up house on Cherokee Ave., Centre island, with the sole purpose of having a very good time.
The Hounds of Cherokee, as the hellraisers named themselves, became a local legend in the years between 1915 and 1920. They indulged in riotous parties; their wild boat races around the waterways often deteriorated into hand-to-hand combat; and they played endless practical jokes.
Bachelors all
The only ironclad rule recognized by all nine Hounds was a dedication to bachelordom. Ladies were frequent, very welcome guests to their handsome plantation-style wood frame house, but marriage was not a popular topic of discussion.
The moment a Hound fell victim to wedding bells – and all of them eventually did — he had to leave Centre Island and make way for a single man. Their departure from Cherokee Ave., in keeping with the Hounds’ cavalier humor, was usually marked with a full-scale “wake”.
Residents of the island and the Harbor police eventually became accustomed to the sight of fraternity members swimming to the mainland because they missed the ferry to work after a late-night party. As official historian of the Hounds even after he married, McCrimmon compiled a timeless pictorial and written record of Toronto shrugging off the grim aftermath of war. Born in Woodville, Ont., the son of a farmer, he came to Toronto when he was 16 to take a business course at college. After training he became a store salesman – a job he held until his semi-retirement at 70 – and worked for local firms such as Ellis Brothers and Birks. But McCrimmon’s days as a leading light of The Hounds were numbered when he met Sarah Reid at the Dovercourt Rd. Presbyterian Church. They were married in 1916.
Loved farming
He never lost his love for farming and bought a 25-acre plot of land in Willowdale on which he bred chickens. But later he had his greatest success growing strawberries and raspberries on a 10-acre farm at Castleton, starting this second “career” when he was
The McCrimmons had three children, 14 grandchildren and 10 greatgrandchildren. Two years ago McCrimmon, pre-deceased by his wife, left the farm to live at Cummer House, Willowdale. He will be buried tomorrow at Smith Cemetery in Woodville at 1 p.m.

Barnacle Bill Durnan

Barnacle Bill Durnan
Barnacle Bill Durnan

from “News ‘n Views” Vol XII No I, May 1973

  • Created by: News ‘n Views, a City of Toronto Employee Union publication
  • Date: 1973-05-01
  • Provenance: From the collection of Ted English, digitized by Eric Zhelka
  • Notes:


Barnacle William Bill Durnan
In the early eighteen-thirties, 1830s, James Durnan took up residence and ran the , Hanlan’s Point Lighthouse on Gibraltar Point at the south west corner of Toronto Island. James fathered a family famous in the Lake Life of Toronto Harbour. Today James’s great-great-grandson Bill is a member of Local 79 and is working Metro Roads and Traffic Department.
For the past several decades Bill has led a marine life; he’s a lean fit man in his middle years.
During the war, he and a couple of his Toronto buddies signed on with an American freighter before the days of the convoy system. His ship sailed alone through U-boat infested waters. On one trip to Rio de Janeiro, he counted seventeen wrecks that had been torpedoed and rested on the shoals off the U.S. Coast. “They seemed to hit the tankers worse than anything,” Bill told me, “I saw one tanker go down and there was an oil spill over the ocean a mile in diameter.” In the past two and a half decades Bill spent a dozen or so years operating a water-taxi in the harbour. One event which he will never forget happened in 1949. He was headed out toward the Western Gap carrying four passengers when he saw a red glow coming from the centre mainland. It turned out to be the passenger steamer S.S. Noronic which caught fire at Pier 9 at the foot of Yonge Street. Bill and his passengers turned and raced to the stricken vessel to aid in the rescue operations.
“It was an eerie scene, the sky was all red and you could hear the sirens from way off. Over a hundred and twenty people were burned to death; many were lucky enough to be able to jump overboard and we picked up nine of them all cold and shivering. It was really grim.”
Bill lives in an attractive cottage on a lagoon on Ward’s Island. Late last summer he invited Mo Todd and me over, and dined us on great big turkey legs and Scotch. It was a very enjoyable and relaxing evening. The cottage is filled with mementos from the past; collectors would drool over them; among them a ship’s compass from a Great Lakes sailing vessel, a nautical painting by his mother, inserted into a porthole. A collection of old rifles, pistols and bayonets covers the wall over the fireplace.
Bill let us browse through many other interesting things. I glanced through a ‘Handbook for Masters’; a book on Nautical Mathematics; and another book on his lineal descendants from 1800. The souvenirs are endless, life preservers from the Noronic and the Bluebell, a machine gun from a Hawker Hurricane, a clipping from the early nineteen hundreds honouring his grandfather George who ran the lighthouse for over half a century; and another news item with a picture of his cousin, Eddie Durnan, who became the American Sculling Champion in 1907.
After dinner we walked across the road to the dock where Bill keeps his two boats. He showed us over his tug, ‘The Chuckie Joe’, and then we sat and had a drink on board his shipshape little cabin cruiser, ‘The Sandra Sue’.
Bill loves animals and is quite an animal trainer. He has a cat named Spider. Spider eats and performs his duties to a miniature ship’s bell which hangs in the kitchen. On one bell Spider walks like clockwork to his plate; there he stands at attention until two bells, at which time he commences eating.
Bill also had a dog named Mike. Mike unfortunately got drowned in the lagoon a while ago. When he was alive, Mike had the honour of being the only dog allowed into the Queen City Yacht Club. He had this honour because he could play the piano. Bill had taught him. Mike, a mixture of German Shepherd and Spaniel, sat on the piano stool and banged away as long as members kept his bowl filled with beer.
Some of Bill’s relatives still have a boathouse on Hanlan’s Point: they rent boats and run water-taxis. The business dates back a hundred years. It was started before the time Bill’s grandfather George found the bones of the first lighthouse keeper buried in a box in the sand at the water’s edge. He was a friendly old German by the name of Muller. It is said that he was brutally murdered by some drunken soldiers from the blockhouse a mile north of the point. To this day, Muller’s ghost, it is claimed, can be heard at night climbing the stairs to light the lamp.
I asked Bill about the tale and he told me it was a lot of nonsense; I was hoping for a confirmation of the ghost tale, and I can’t help wishing that Bill had spun me a bit of a yarn.
It is a pleasant experience to work with Bill Durnan. Mo. Todd and I often
have lunch together; all who know him find him a very colourful man.

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

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

  • 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.,
Page 13
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
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.”
ALAN HOWARD
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!”