Toronto Island History

A visual history of the Toronto Islands

The Toronto Islands have been the city's go-to summer day-tripping spot for over 150 years now. The first horse-powered ferries started carrying folks across the harbour in 1833, and by the turn of the 20th century the western side of the Islands was already a bustling resort spot, anchored by the Hanlan family who opened a hotel there in 1878.

The main stretch of the Island actually started as a peninsula, formed by deposits from the Scarborough Bluffs (see the 1818 map of York below) over thousands of years. It wasn't until two huge storms, first in 1852 and then in 1858, ripped through the city, that the Eastern Gap was formed. There have since been numerous plans to build bridges and tunnels to the Islands, but as of yet none have been completed (though the most recent proposal has just been approved).

Although the Coney-Island-like atmosphere on the Islands died when the Hanlan's Point Amusement Park closed up shop in the late 1920s, the area still retained a sizable residential community until the 1950s when Metro Toronto Council sought to convert the Islands into City parkland. Over the next 20 years, numerous homes were demolished, but residents on Ward's and Algonquin Islands continued to battle the City until late 1981, when the province granted them the right to stay until 2005. The matter eventually come to a close in 1993 with the passing of the Toronto Islands Residential Community Stewardship Act, through which residents were granted the opportunity to buy 99 year land leases that ensured they could continue to occupy their homes.

The Island airport, which opened in 1937, has also see its fair share of controversy over the years. Like the homes, however, it's not going anywhere. With the exception of Centreville and a few other business (e.g. the Shopsy's at the Centre Island dock), the rest of the Islands remain tranquil parkland with ample beach areas and views of the Toronto skyline.

PHOTOS

1810s

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1818 Plan of the York Harbour

1830s

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The first ferry boat

1890s

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Island Bridge

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Dotty's Hippodrome

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Island Filtration Plant tunnel

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Elevated view of the Island

1900s

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Hanlan's Point Hotel

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Hotel and Regatta

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Toronto skyline from Mugg's Island

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Hanlan's Point bathers

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Cottages at Hanlan's Point

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One of the Islands' many lagoons

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War canoes!

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Ruins of the Hanlan's Point Hotel after fire

1910s

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Island homes

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Centre Island map

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Island rowers

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Toronto skyline

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View of the Island from the Filtration Plant chimney

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Hanlan's Stadium and Amusement Park

1920s

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An Island beach

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Concession stand at Hanlan's Point

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Olympic Island bridge

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Swimming at Hanlan's Point

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Royal Canadian Yacht Club

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Island Aquatic

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Durnan's Boathouse

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Garbage collection the old fashioned way

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Island tents

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Picnickers

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The Turner Baths

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Island Homes

1930s

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Aerial view

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Airport opening

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Lakeshore House

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Island Boardwalk

1940s

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Island Airport

1970s

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Centre Island train

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Airport ferry

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Island ferry

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Hanlan's Point

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Sunset

Today

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Centre Island Beach

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Toronto Skyline from 2010

Photos from the Toronto Archives and the Wikimedia Commons


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