Look What They’ve Done To Toronto’s Island

Look What They’ve Done To Toronto’s Island
  • Created by: Canadian Weekly
  • Byline: Robert Thomas Allen
  • Date: 1963-08-24
  • Provenance: From the collection of Ted English, digitized by Eric Zhelka
  • Notes:

Look what they’ve done to Toronto’s island
If you travel south through To Ironically this charming old back- About half of the islands’ you come to the downtown water, cut off from the city by a acres, or an area the size of Monaco, district, then to grimy brick whole- storm in 1858, is coming to its end has been levelled. Hanlan’s Point, sale houses, four-lane expressways, because of another high-water period on the western end of the main railway tracks, shipping sheds and that took place 10 years ago. Since four-mile hook that holds the other the usual jungle of a big-city water- the s become the victim of a 15 islands in the crook of its front. But if you keep going south, dreadful kind of muscular progress. began to disappear in 1936, with the by ferry, you come to a land of Toronto urning and bulldozing construction of the Island Airport lagoons and quaint humpback Island homes—old sideboards bridges where people ride bicycles chandeliers and all—in a plan to dren, a convalescent hospital to a park by live in 19th-century clapboard houses, 968 and present it to “the people” quarters for the Free Norwegian Visit one another by canoe and enjoy like a plastic pie plate. Old Islanders, air force, has since been flattened. the best of two worlds. They have a ome the third generation to be born – has city of 1,576,000 at their backs ith water between them and the householder, a cherubic, pinkwhere they can work during the Queen City, are migrating east alon cheeked, sandbar as their homes fall, Johnny Durnan, who is sitting there seldom smell and only see at its hoping that something will stop the surrounded by an uninhabited desert very best, across a mile of water, rocess. Most can talk for quite a of bulldozed rubble with 75 canoes, pale blue and romantic in the hile about Metropolitan Toronto’s skiffs and his own dock. The only distance. was of doing things, without repeat- ferry to his neighborhood is the cable ng a word. ferry that operates across the western gap to the airport. “I’ve got the only rowing skiffs in North America,” he told me, cigar – I boats are 60 years old. “My father and I made them, and they’re as aS neW. bout the only other reminder of human habitation in the western area is Gibraltar Lighthouse, erected in 1808 and the scene of one of S eeper for s gr en he used cl him t ath. There’s a water filtration plant for the city of Toronto, and the Island school, with an attendance of 1 il There n 1954; now 17 o e rooms are d as a year ‘roun natural science school for Toronto’s Grade 6 who explore an overgrown which the Metropolitan Parks Commission has ised to leave alone ? the middle of the main hook plus a big back island, has already been improved into a formal park without a soul living on it except at its eastern margin. hauled ashore the canoe in whic e Oa ‘the most beautifully executed mis take.’ The old Island community embraced advanced principles of . “It w were accessible to everyone. “Royal” for 109 years Not far from Anderson’s present home is the snooty Royal Canadian Yacht club, formed in 1852 and called “Royal” in 1854 when the club applied for permission and “Her Majesty was graciously pleased h their prayer. a 10 years ago on Muggs Island. It also has its own ferry, skippered th style and a flourish by a bearded ish – wi young Englishman prim lawns, cottonwoods, maples and picket fences and all doomed halts its policy. “Toronto has the most archaic expropriation laws in the western world,” said the wife of a CBC executive producer, E. E. Rollins, who lives in a solid old 18-room clapboard house on the lakeshore. MOURNING THE ISLAND THAT WAS the p park at Hanlan’s Point. Turning blue in the lake pin e sand a weekend y horses on the Island put to s work as plowing a path to the ancient lighthouse. Spring saw throngs returning, bag and baggage, by ferry. Not so pessimistic Islanders are among Toronto’s most hospitable people. Within a minute of calling at another house in this area, I was sitting down, a complete stranger, at a meal of roast beef and pan-browned potatoes with the family of a real estate b named Paul McLaughlin. After sup per he took me for a cruise around. not as pessimistic as some Islanders,” he said, stéering around a flock of green-winged teal. We ish “Ten years ago,” McLaughlin continued, “the city had what appeared unlimited money. Now, when the should be watching every buck, they’re not likely to spend all that money to acquire a few houses on this narrow strip when there’s so much unused land.” Algonquin Island, near the eastern end of the archipelago—a village of tree-bordered streets with names like Dacotah, Ojibway Ward’s Island, the eastern end of the hook, are the only other inhabited sections. “I came here 63 years ago,” said a 74-year-old Ward’s resident, Frank Staneland, who has nine grandchildren and four great-grandchildren living within a gull’s cry of him. “I amped here with a friend. There were only two tents on the Island. | remember seeing Ned Hanlan race for a championship–l forget whom he was racing—I was keeping up with him in my rowboat for a while, till I gave out.” The Toronto islands were formed when wave action began to work away the high shore line of old Lake Iroquois (a high, ice-age Lake Ontario) producing Scarboro Bluffs to the east of Toronto and depositing was a great place for raising goats. At various times this eastern end of the isthmus was the site of a zoo, a starch factory, a salmon fishery, a racetrack and a Snug hide-out for mugglers. L sandbar were cut by 1On in separate islands, and subsequent dredging harbor for park improvement in 1903 showed 22 islands inside the hook. The land was granted to Toronto by the crown in 1867 and part of it leased for residential lots. Those days nobody was concerned about eases women’s”.) A lifeguard named Captain Andrews pulled 69 bathers and capsized boaters out of the water, and an early resident of Ward’s, Charlie Priestman, became so well known by walkin ? ferries. e Toronto Maple Leaf ball team played their games there, and there were rides and midway attractions, a dance pavilion, band shell, roller skating, a diving horse and exhibitions of tightrope walking. Manitou Rd. on Centre Island became the “main street” of the islands, and on Centre, as well as on Hanlan’s and Ward’s and Algonquin there settled a nucleus of Island and kids’ coaster wagons. The islands were at one time or another the home of Toronto’s two-fisted m McBride (who was using s long before the modern novelists), Mayor Stewart, Donald Fleming, Sir Casimir Gzowski, the Gooderham and Nordheimer New York American goalie Ja e Forbes, sculler Jack Guest and swimmer George Young. Hap Day, Turk Broda, Gordie Drillon a Jak Bankers like beachcombers in The Islanders, virtually all of whom held jobs in the city, were a boating breed and the only Torontonians who rowboat pools and many paddled their own canoes to work, skilfully dodging the bilge of tankers. A night editor of a Toronto paper used to take his two dogs to work with him and could be seen any afternoon headed in the direction of Toronto’s skyline as if he were goin at night like Athenians returning from banishment. One Han n lan’s Pointer, imp at sight of his native lagoons, eryone’s f sitting reading his paper, looking, to a stranger, like a lone passenger, would glance up at some remark made by someone in a nearby group and add a few comments as if he were in his own living-room. One regular passenger used to do setting-up exercises on the upper deck all the way to work. Missing the last boat either way stant hazard. One veteran t women to town by tug, fireboat, ice-breaker or anything else afloat. ? ioper who was terrified of pregnant women locked himself in the wheelhouse and made the expectant parents sit out on deck. The Islanders were given to wandering down to the docks in the morning finishing their toast an marmalade. The skipper of the ferry Jasmine hated to leave anybody behind and got later and later until – ight was leaving at re d the five-to-eig on ck waving as if seeing o the Queen Mary. Many skippers were OIT job so long they could have found the docks the way most people find the o in a bathtub. It was years passengers of the John Hanlan realized that that was pre e way the skipper th was doing it. He ran aground in a of everyone on board who could see the dock clearly. It turned out that his eyesight had become so bad he ad to fee defending forces of the Toronto police at King St. and was promptly beached. The ferry ride was magic In 1946 five ferries were carrying ? m land of strange and friendly people. During all this, Toronto politicians looked grimly toward the Island The city complained that the ferry service cost too much, said the let them use their verandas in rain OLDTIMERS CLING TO HOMES – and a friend camped on the Island. Now 74, he’s been coming back ever since, Island. He and his f his boat livery, now stranded amid the rubble of Hanlan’s Point. He lso runs a water-taxi to the Island. storms, lent them dry clothes and often never got them back, and, in en, made out old wooden bridge from the Don Valley to Centre Island and placing it in the middle of the park, connected to nothing at either end. In 1951 and 1952 the water table rose so high that Islanders had to 63 YEARS AGO Frank Staneland (above) headline of newspaper it sound like a . Toronto applied to Ottawa for help in stabilizing the sea wall and newspaper headline writers had a field day. (“Island “Home Rule’ Demand Rebuffed!” “Island Plan Must Take Back Seat to Defence!” “Ottawa Unmoved.”) There were defiant gestures. Mrs. Ina Claire Jackson piled up six summonses for operating a bicycle license. In the meantime, oldtimers took soundings outside and Island women, bound for evening festivities, hiked their evening gowns up over their handlebars, hung their evening slippers around their necks, and pedalled to the ball in their stocking feet, their toes dipping into the water. Island poets, of which “The Island moon is full tonight, ? d Broadcaster. – “That is no place for human habitation in the wintertime.” Mayor Lamport. “I walked tonight between the shadow and the light, upon the field and paused in deep content”—The Weekly lslander. “Harold Bradley, Street Commissioner, Proposes Rais Island With Garbage” Toronto Star. “Select refuse is not garbage”. “The Island is made for a thousand romances. When Life is so short, make love while you may”—Island Broadcaster. A unique asset destroyed this time some of the Islanders must have been making love under water. The islands needed building up in places; they didn’t have to be annihilated. But the city acted before the water subsided, be terminating the 638 leases and announced flatly that the islands were going to be made into a park, with no people living on them. A budget of $12 million was set aside for ld have been enough IUCe up the islands and he spots). To the horror of the Islanders slap of cottage doors. It was all tidy, filled-in, antiseptic and progressive. A dozen lawn sprinklers squirted me – as I walked Ward’s Island: “You know, I have a theory. You can’t have success without people.”

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