Toronto Islands are a chain of small islands in the city of Toronto, Canada.
located in Lake
Ontario just offshore from the city centre, and provide
shelter for Toronto
Harbour. The islands are a popular recreational
destination, and are home to a small residential community and to
the Billy Bishop Toronto City
They are connected to the mainland by
several ferry services.
The islands comprise the largest urban car-free
community in North America, though some
service vehicles are permitted. Recreational bicyclists are
accommodated on the ferries, and bicycles, quadracycles
can be rented on the islands as
Map of the islands
The area of the islands is about . The largest, outermost island,
called Centre Island
, is crescent-shaped and forms
the shoreline of both the Eastern and Western Channels.
(Sunfish Island) and
are two of the other major islands. What
is commonly called Ward's Island
is actually the
eastern end of Centre Island. Confusingly, Centre Island Park is
located on Middle Island
, which is as a
consequence often mistaken for Centre Island. Centre Island is
sometimes referred to as Toronto Island
singular form) to prevent this type of confusion. Other smaller
- Forestry Island
- Snake Island
- South Island
There are two unnamed islands:
- ringed island in Long Pond (the former water intake of the City
- small island in Lighthouse Pond
The islands were originally a 9 km peninsula
or sand spit
extending from the mainland. The islands are composed of alluvial deposits from the erosion of the
The flow from the Niagara River to the
south across Lake Ontario causes a counter-clockwise east-to-west
current which has, over time, deposited sediments at the south end
of the harbour to form a sand spit
In 1852, a storm flooded sand pits on the peninsula, creating a
channel east of Ward's. The channel was widened and made permanent
by a violent storm in 1858. The channel became known as the
. The peninsula to the west became known as the
Toronto Islands. To the east of the Gap, the area of today's Cherry
Beach was known as "Fisherman's Island".
deposition was halted in the 1960s when the Leslie Street
Spit was extended beyond the southern edge of the
Left to nature, the islands would diminish over
time, but this is limited due to hard shore lines built to limit
erosion. Over the years land
has contributed to an increase in the size of the
islands. The harbour was shallow with a sandy bottom and the sands
were moved by dredging or suction methods. Ward's Island was
expanded by dredging. Today's Algonquin Island, formerly known as
Sunfish Island, was created from harbour bottom sands.
The area now occupied by the airport has been subject to several
landfills, initially to accommodate the amusement park that
preceded the airport, and then to accommodate the airport itself.
Western Channel to the north of the airport is several hundred feet
of the original western channel, which was just south of today's
It was opened in 1911 as part of a program
to improve boat navigation into the harbour. The airport lands were
created from harbour sands in the late 1930s.
A series of waterways allow boat traffic to navigate the
- Allan Lamport Regatta Course
- Block House Bay
- Lighthouse Pond
- Long Pond
- Snake Pond
- Snug Harbour
Hanlan Hotel on the Toronto Islands in
the late 19th century
Ward's Hotel on Ward's Island, ca.
Prior to European colonization, the Toronto area was home to
various native tribes, including the Ojibwa
who were the last people to occupy the area. The peninsula and
surrounding sand-bars that now form the Toronto Islands were first
surveyed in 1792 by Lieutenant Joseph
of the Royal Navy
. D. W. Smith
recorded in 1813 that "the long beach or peninsula, which affords a
most delightful ride, is considered so healthy by the Indians that
they resort to it whenever indisposed". Many Indian encampments
were located between the peninsula's base and the Don River.. The
peninsula was actually a series of many sand spits and ponds.
Lighthouse was constructed at Gibraltar Point, the
south-western extremity of the peninsula in 1808.
the lighthouse keeper, J.P. Rademuller, died in suspicious
circumstances. The exact truth of his death is unknown, but there
are indications that he was murdered by soldiers from Fort
After the peninsula became an island, the Hanlan family were among
the first year-round inhabitants, settling at Gibraltar Point in
1862. In 1867 the City of Toronto acquired the islands from the
federal government, and the land was divided into lots, allowing
cottages, amusement areas and resort hotels to be built. The west
side of the island became a resort destination for the people of
Toronto and the first summer cottage community was built there. In
1878, a hotel was built by John Hanlan at the north-west tip of the
island and soon after the area became known as Hanlan's Point.
John's son, Edward "Ned" Hanlan
international recognition as a rower
before taking over his father's business.
At the same time as Hanlan's Point was developing as a summer
suburb of Toronto, developments were going on elsewhere on the
islands. Along the lakefront of Centre Island, large Victorian
summer homes were built by
Toronto's leading families looking for refuge from the summer heat
and drawn by the prestigious Royal Canadian Yacht Club
had moved to a location on the harbour side of Centre Island in
1881. By contrast the Ward's Island community began in the 1880s as
a settlement of tents. By 1913, the number of tents pitched had
increased to the point where the city felt it necessary to organize
the community into streets, and the tents eventually evolved into a
In 1894, a land reclamation
by the Toronto Ferry Company
created space for an amusement park
at Hanlan's Point. In 1897, the Hanlan's Point Stadium
alongside the amusement park for the Toronto Maple Leaf
. The stadium was rebuilt several times over the
years, and in 1914, Babe Ruth
first professional home run
into the waters
of Lake Ontario from this stadium. In the 1920s the Maple Leaf team
moved to a new stadium on the mainland.
In 1937 construction started on a new airport on the site of the
park and stadium. The construction of the airport on infill led to
the demolition of the stadium and most of the amusement park. It
also meant that the cottage community at Hanlan's Point needed to
be relocated. The residents were given the choice of either moving
their cottages further south at Hanlan's Point, or resettling on
Algonquin Island. Originally, Algonquin Island was simply a sandbar
known as Sunfish Island that was expanded by land reclamation
operations. In 1938 streets were laid out to accommodate 31
cottages that were moved by barge from Hanlan's Point. The original
aspect of Algonquin Island was of unvegetated sand, and the current
lush environment of the island is the result of many years of work
The airport opened in 1939, formally named the Port George VI
, after the reigning monarch of the time.
first few years of the Second World
War, expatriate Norwegian (RNAF)
pilots-in-training used the Toronto Island Airport as a training
field for both fighter and bomber pilots.
including one where a pilot under instruction clipped the funnel
and mast of the island ferry boat Sam McBride
led to the training school being moved north to Muskoka
, Ontario. (The park on the mainland called
Norway Park commemorates this period.)
In 1959, the Metro Parks Department opened 'Far Enough Farm', and
in 1967, opened the Centreville Amusement Park, along with a new
public marina. In 1971, Metro Parks opened a new ferry terminal at
the foot of Bay Street. Unlike the previous terminal, no waiting
room was provided. In 1976, the Trillium
, a 1910
paddlewheeler ferry which had been abandoned in a lagoon, was
refurbished and relaunched for use as an island ferry.
To the descendants of the Ojibwa, now the Mississauga First Nation
Toronto Islands are sacred land. Their aboriginal title to the
islands has been acknowledged by the federal government of Canada .
The land is currently 'owned' by the City of Toronto, and the
Mississaugas are considering how they will exercise their
aboriginal title and have a presence there.
The Toronto Islands have appeared as significant settings in
Canadian literature. Examples includes Margaret Atwood
's The Robber Bride
and Robert Rotenberg
's Old City
View of the Toronto skyline in 1915
from the Toronto Islands
Toronto skyline in 2009 as seen from
Centre Island Park
The Toronto island community's fight to stay
At its peak in the 1950s, the Island residential community extended
from Ward's Island to Hanlan's Point, and was made up of some 630
cottages and homes, in addition to such amenities as a movie
theatre, a bowling alley, stores, hotels, and dance halls. Not long
after its creation in 1953, Metropolitan Toronto Council undertook
to remove the community and replace it with parkland. The
construction of the Gardiner
had removed many acres of recreational land along
the Toronto waterfront, and the Islands lands were to replace the
In 1955, after the City had transferred the lands to Metro, the new
Metro Parks Department started to demolish homes and cottages whose
lease had expired or whose lease holders gave up their leases. By
1963, all Islanders willing to leave the island had left and the
remaining Islanders started to fight the plans of Metro to remove
their homes. While demolitions still proceeded, the Islanders'
alderman David Rotenberg pushed the Islanders' cause and the number
of demolitions dwindled. In 1969, the Toronto Islands' Residents
Association (TIRA) was formed. Still, by 1970 only 250 homes, on
Ward's and Algonquin Islands, had escaped the bulldozer. The 1970s
saw no further demolitions as the Metro Parks plans were thwarted
by year-to-year leases and the changing of the guard on Toronto
City Council to a group more sympathetic to the Islanders. In 1973,
City Council voted 17–2 to preserve the community and transfer
those lands back to the City. However, Metro Council remained
opposed and the Islanders started legal challenges to Metro's plans
in 1974 to delay Metro's plans of expropriation. By 1978, Metro
Council had won several legal battles and had obtained 'writs of
possession' for the 250 homes. At the time, a minority provincial
Conservative government was in place with both the Liberals and NDP
opposition parties in favour of the Islanders and the Islanders
appealed to the provincial government, winning more time when the
province agreed to act as mediator between the City and Islanders
Matters came to a head on July 28, 1980, when a sheriff sent to
serve eviction notices to remaining residents was met at the
Algonquin Island bridge by much of the community, whose leaders
persuaded the sheriff to withdraw. On July 31, the community won
the right to challenge the 1974 evictions. The Islanders lost the
challenge, but by this time, the province had started a formal
inquiry headed by Barry Swadron into the Toronto Islands. On
December 18, 1981, the province of Ontario passed a law legalizing
the Islanders to stay until 2005. This kept the lands in Metro's
ownership, to be leased to the City who would lease it to the
Islanders. Wrangling over the terms of the lease payments to Metro
took several years.
The community's fight for survival was finally rewarded in 1993,
when the Ontario Government passed the Toronto Islands
Residential Community Stewardship Act
, which enabled Islanders
to purchase 99-year land leases from a Land Trust.
The islands today
central area hosts Centreville, a children's amusement park which was built in
1967 with a turn-of-the-century theme.
Paddling among the Toronto
The park includes a
, and is open daily in summer.
There are several swimming beaches on the islands, including
, Gibraltar Point
, Hanlan's Point Beach
and Ward's Island
. Hanlan's Point Beach includes an officially recognized
clothing optional section
Recreational boating has been popular on the islands for over a
century. The Islands are home to four yacht clubs: Harbour City Yacht Club
, Island Yacht Club
, Queen City Yacht Club
the Royal Canadian Yacht
. There is a public marina, the Toronto Island Marina
, and several
smaller clubs including the Toronto Island Sailing Club
Sunfish Cut Boat Club
Toronto Island Canoe Club
There is also a dragon boat
course and grandstand, where the Toronto
International Dragon Boat Race Festival
is held annually.
For many years Caribana
has held an annual arts festival at Olympic Island on the Simcoe
Day weekend. Other Island events include the Olympic Island Festival
, an annual
rock concert initiated in 2004 by Sloan
's Jay Ferguson
One of the homes on Ward's
A community of 262 cottage homes still remain on the Toronto
Islands, concentrated at the eastern end of the island chain on
Ward's Island and Algonquin Island. Under the terms of the
Toronto Islands Residential Community Stewardship Act
there are strict rules under provincial law governing the buying
and selling of these homes.
There are two schools and one church on the islands. The Toronto
Island Public School, a public school
Gibraltar Point, operates a day programme for island residents up
to grade 6
, a residential natural science
programme for visiting grade
5/6 students from the mainland, and a pre-school nursery
. The Waterfront Montessori
Children's Centre, a non-profit, parent run co-operative facility
for children aged 2½ to 5, is located on Algonquin Island. St.
Andrew-by-the-Lake Church is an Anglican
church located on Centre Island which serves the islands' residents
The Gibraltar Point Centre for the Arts occupies buildings
previously used by the Toronto Island Public School, and comprises
15 artist work studios occupied by a mix of painters
, and a recording
. The centre provides a short-term studio and bedroom
rental service for artists, together with meeting, conference and
special event services and an artist residency program.
The island is part of Toronto Ward 28 Toronto Centre-Rosedale and
represented by Pam McConnell
. It was
once part of St. Andrew Ward and Metro Toronto Ward 20
The island is part of the riding of Toronto Centre
since 1872 and represented by
Liberal MPP George
The island is part of the riding of Trinity—Spadina
(parts formerly of
Toronto Centre-Rosedale and Rosedale) and represented by NDP MP
. It was formerly part of
The north-western tip of the Toronto Islands is home to the Billy
Bishop Toronto City Airport, more often known as the Toronto Island
Airport. The airport is used for civil
, including airlines
, flight training
and private aviation
Since 1984, it has been used for regional airlines using approved
STOL-type aircraft. In recent years, the airport has become the
centre of controversy between those who wish to close it down, and
those who want to expand its usage. One focus of this controversy
has been a plan to construct a road bridge to the airport; this was
a major issue in the 2003 election
and was cancelled by David Miller
One of the ferries that links the
Toronto Islands to the mainland
There is no fixed road link from the mainland to the Toronto
Islands, which therefore rely on ferries
and other boats for their
Three public ferry routes provide links for passengers and service
vehicles from the central Toronto
to docks at Hanlan's Point, Centre Island Park and
Ward's Island, and are used by recreational visitors and residents.
fourth public ferry service provides a vehicle and passenger
connection from a dock at the foot of Bathurst
Street to the airport.
There is no public access
between the airport and the rest of the island chain.
Beside the public ferry services, several yacht clubs
located on the islands provide private ferry services for their
members and guests.
All roads on the islands are paved, the only exception being a long
wooden boardwalk on the South end of Ward's Island. The use of
motor vehicles is limited to service vehicles. However, bicycles
are welcome on the ferries and the island, and there are rental
bikes available. The Toronto
operates a shuttle bus from time to time on
Beach on Ward's Island
- 1787 - Toronto Purchase. Mississauga Indians receive 10
- 1793 - Blockhouse built by the Queen's Rangers at Gibraltar
- 1808 - Lighthouse constructed at Gibraltar Point.
- 1834 - Fisherman David Ward and family one of first settlers on
- 1830-1840 - First island hotels built. Start of ferry
- 1850 - Filtration plant on island starts supplying water to
- 1855 - Ned Hanlan born.
- 1858 - Storm separates Toronto Islands from mainland.
- 1867 - Islands become property of City of Toronto. Lot leases
- 1870-80 - Summer homes established on island. Cottages from
Hanlan's Point to Centre Island.
- 1874 - Hanlan's Hotel opens.
- 1880 - Royal Canadian Yacht Club established on island.
- 1884 - St. Rita's and St. Andrew-on-the-Lake churches
- 1897 - First amusements on Hanlan's Point established.
- 1897 - Baseball and lacrosse stadium on Hanlan's Point.
- 1899 - First summer colony established on Ward's.
- 1903 - Baseball stadium destroyed by fire and rebuilt.
- 1909 - Hanlan Hotel destroyed by fire.
- 1909 - Baseball stadium again destroyed by fire and
- 1913 - First 'tent city' on Ward's.
- 1926 - Baseball stadium vacated by Toronto Maple Leafs baseball
- 1937 - Demolition of baseball stadium and construction of
Island airport. Some cottages moved to Algonquin Island.
- 1939 - The Sam McBride ferry enters service.
- 1947 - City approves year-round residency to cope with housing
- 1949 - SS Noronic catches
fire and sinks; 118 dead.
- 1956 - New Metro Toronto government takes over Island and
leases. Starts demolishing cottages.
- 1959 - Far Enough Farm opens.
- 1967 - Centreville Amusement Park opens.
- 1967 - Toronto Island Marina opens.
- 1977-1993 - Supreme Court approves of cancellation of leases by
Metro. Remaining residents fight to remain.
- 1991 - Transfer of cottage lands and lease to City allowing
residents to stay.
- 2006 - Porter Air establishes business at the Toronto Island
Sward, p. xv, pp. 42-51
- Wickson, pg. 30
- Sward, p. 48
- Gibson, p. 271
- Gibson, p 236-250.
- Gibson, pp. 254-288.
- Gibson, p 290-291.
- Gibson, p.293