July 1, 2009

Toronto Island Homes

Here's an article I wrote in 2003 for my son when he was nine.

The Toronto Islands are a car-free, store-free community. Because the string of islands is a sandbar, the houses there have no basements and since the island is car-less, no garages are needed. The median size of a home is about 72 sq metres, small in comparison to those on the mainland.

On the surface it seems that these islanders make do without a lot of everyday conveniences. But those slip-sliding to the ferry dock in the middle of winter still love the place. This quirky, spirited community has the benefits of small-town life while being able to access the amenities of a big city.

The homes on the Toronto Islands are a 150-year-old community comprised of 262 homes, about 650 people, assorted dogs, cats, and some of the most creative, unique and interesting homes and gardens imaginable.

Up until the 1850's the Toronto Islands were part of the city, joined by a series of sandbars and bridges to Toronto. During that decade a number of severe storms and their strong waves wore away at the sandbar, until finally, in 1858, the island string was created when a storm completely eroded the peninsula from the mainland and the gap was not repaired.

The Island's first hotel was opened in 1833, catering to the growing number of Torontonians seeking an escape from city life. For these people the Island was a place where they could relax with long walks and sporting events or dance and socialize. Even in winter, people came to fish, skate and sail their iceboats.

By the late 1870s, Hanlan's Point had become the "Coney Island of Canada" with a vaudeville theatre, dance halls and a large amusement park. In 1897, a baseball and lacrosse stadium was built on the site of the present-day Island Airport. It was here that Babe Ruth, a baseball legend, hit his first major league home run. During this time numerous cottages began to appear, as city folk embraced the lifestyle of the Island. By 1900, Hanlan's Point had grown to be a "summer suburb of the city" and remained so for more than 50 years.

Centre Island was once home to many people and to businesses of every description: a pharmacy; a French laundry; a movie theatre; and a barber shop, among others. Houses bordering on the Island's lagoon system were described as "Venetian-inspired". It was here, and especially on the lakefront, that large Victorian summer homes were built by Toronto's leading families seeking refuge from the summer heat and proximity to the Royal Canadian Yacht Club. The Yacht Club is still there and it is also home to Centreville Amusement Park.

The Ward's Island community began in the 1880s as a tent settlement. Residents visualized a "city" of tents, each having a slight individuality, yet standing together as a whole. By 1913, the number of tents pitched had increased so much that the city felt it necessary to organize the community into streets. The evolution from tents to cottage structures progressed in stages with the building of floors, walls, the addition of kitchens and then porches, resulting in the creation of the homes you see today.

Originally, Algonquin Island was simply a sandbar providing a protected channel for small boats. Known first as Sunfish Island, it was expanded by landfill operations. In 1938 streets were laid out to accommodate 31 cottages that had been floated down by barge from Hanlan's Point. These homes had been moved to make way for the building of the Island Airport. Most people seeing Algonquin Island for the first time were not impressed; to them it was "sand, just sand." It took years and a great deal of hard work by residents to transform this "flat as a billiard table" island into the lush environment it is now.

With the establishment of Metro Toronto Council in 1953 came a radical change in policy toward the Toronto Islands and its residents. They wasted no time in modernizing the area. There was rapid removal of shops and businesses and the organized demolition and burning of homes.

With the last of the lake-front houses gone by 1968, residents on Ward's and Algonquin Islands rose up in protest. The fight to save their community lasted over 20 years until the 1993 establishment of the Toronto Islands Residential Community Trust and the procurement of 99-year land leases for residents.


giulia said...

I'm ready to move. What sort of shop can they use? Can they use a redheaded cat to patrol & stir up some fun? xo

The Clever Pup said...


You know what - I don't think they have any shops. A couple of bakeries and coffee shops. They've got a kind of swap shop out in the open. For groceries you must get them on the mainland. Hard slogging in the winter.

Marie Reed said...

I feel like a travel dud! Ive been to Toronto but had no idea that there were islands too! Sounds heavenly.. except for the whole no grocery store thing!

giulia said...

Well, OK. H-Pup & Marie (oh Kermit just showed up in Marie's comment icon...cute:)

Julie & I can offer a service (low fee) of a small delivery service. A red wagon or red shopping cart (like I have now & believe me it's a haul)...hmmmm. Swap shop works for me. Off to ponder this...


Pamela Terry and Edward said...

This makes me want to visit!!

Ima Wizer said...

Ohhhhhhh, I could live out my days in a place like this! I love the photo of the house, too! How wonderful! thanks for sharing this info....I'd never heard of this island.

Diane said...

hi Pup!
This weekend the island was full of boaters.
Things weren't quite as deserted as I would have thought, I guess a lot of people are coming over by tender.

Love your mom's garden and your musings on Sarah.