Toronto Islands History

Toronto Islands weren't always islands. They were actually a collection of constantly moving sandbars that originated from Scarborough Bluffs

Toronto Islands History

Toronto Islands weren't always islands. They were actually a collection of constantly moving sandbars that originated from Scarborough Bluffs, and were carried westward by Lake Ontario currents. The Lake Ontario currents carried the eroded stone from Scarborough Bluffs westward to form the islands. The longest of these bars stretched nearly 9 km south-west of Woodbine Avenue through Ashbridge's Bay, the marshes at the lower Don River and formed a natural harbor between the lakeshore and the mainland in the early 1800's.

British Navy first surveyed the sand bars in 1792. However, they were well-known by natives who saw them as a place for relaxation and leisure. European settlers called the main peninsula the "Island of Hiawatha". The 1800's saw a lot of popularity for the carriage route from York that led to Gibraltar Point. Later, it was known as Lake Shore Avenue. This is the route that forms part of Centre Island's boardwalk. Numerous severe storms and strong wave action caused extensive erosion of the peninsula. This required frequent repairs to small gaps until, finally, an island was formed in 1858 when a storm separated the peninsula from its mainland. The gap was never repaired.

Centre Island lies between Ward's Island and Hanlan's Point. The carriage route that ran along the peninsula linking the mainland and Gibraltar Point Lighthouse became Lake Shore Avenue. It is the main east-west axis on Centre Island. Many of Toronto's most wealthy families built magnificent Victorian summer homes along Lake Shore Avenue east from Manitou Road, Ward's Island, in the late 1800's.

Archbishop Sweatman directed the 1884 construction of St. Andrew-by-the-Lake Anglican Church. Four years later, Island Park was created on the land that had been occupied by St. Andrew-by-the-Lake. It has provided a stunning panoramic view of downtown Toronto since then.

Two distinct bridges are still in use today to handle the increased traffic along the central north/south axis. The Centre Island Ferry, which is operated by the Toronto Ferry Company became more popular. Manitou Road bridge (1912), which replaced an older wooden bridge, and Olympic Island bridge (1914), were built to connect Olympic Island with Island Park.

Ward's Island is actually the eastern section of the peninsula. It was named after the Ward family, who settled here in 1830. David Ward, a local fisherman raised seven children. William Ward, his son, built Ward's Hotel, just south from the Channel Avenue ferry docks in 1882. The original structure had two floors with a central tower on the third. However, the tower and the upper floor were demolished in 1922 as the structure began to deteriorate. The building was used as an ice cream parlour and grocery store until it was demolished in 1966. Wiman's Baths was also built in 1881. The hotel attracted many tourists.,

The Hanlan family were among the first permanent residents of Toronto Islands. They settled at Gibraltar Point in 1862. After the islands were handed over to the City of Toronto by the federal government in 1867, Plan D-141 was adopted. It divided the land into lots, allowing for the construction of cottages, amusement parks, and resort hotels. West Point, the west side of the island was quickly a popular resort area for Torontoans. It is where the first cottage community was established. John Hanlan built a hotel at the island's north-west tip in 1878. Soon after, the area was known as Hanlan's Point. In the 1890s-1910, an amusement park was built and a stadium for baseball that could hold 10,000 people. Here is where Babe Ruth scored his first professional homerun.

The island properties were constantly damaged by high lake levels. On January 1, 1956, Toronto handed over responsibility for the Toronto Islands and the Municipality of Metropolitan Toronto was created as a regional park.

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