Toronto Island Ferry History

A visual history of Toronto ferries

Flocks of Torontonians have been making the ferry trip across the inner harbour to the Island for almost 200 years. To some degree, the tradition hasn't changed a whole lot over this period. City dwellers still jam together at the Bay Street dock on summer weekends in search of the Island's (mostly) bucolic surroundings.

What has changed, on the other hand, is the city from which these trips originate — and, perhaps to a lesser extent, the Island itself. I've already charted the transformation of Toronto's skyline over its history, but there's something particularly intriguing about looking back at the various views of the city afforded by a ferry ride. Whenever I make the trip to the Island now — which isn't as often as I'd like — I spend the entire trip over and back imagining what the city must have looked like in previous decades.

The ferries and their operators have also changed, of course. Originally serviced by a variety of paddle steamers, trips to the Island are now made via diesel boats that were built between 1935 and 1960 (one of the reasons why they appear to have changed so little in the later photos). In fact, one of the early ferries, the 100-year old Trillium, still does the run across the harbour to this day.

Between 1926 and 1961, the TTC was responsible for ferry service, the period in which the current fleet (with the exception of the Trillium) was built. Post-1961 the Parks Department took over the operation, in whose hands it remains. Although I've included a few photographs of the Yonge Street dock below, the main departure point from the city to the Island has been at the foot of Bay for over a 100 years. The Yonge Street dock housed ferries and passenger steamships making longer trips on Lake Ontario and the St. Lawrence River.

PHOTOS (captions above each image)

1900s

The Frontier

2011626-ferry-frontier-1907-f1244_it0256.jpg


Old Ferry Office at the foot of Spadina

2011626-ferry-co-office-spadina-1907-f1244_it1425.jpg


Passengers in 1908

2011626-ferry-passengers-1908-f1244_it0234.jpg


Crowds at the ferry dock

2011626-ferry-crowds-1909-f1244_it0246.jpg


1910s

Toronto Ferry Company

2011626-toronto-ferry-co-1910-f1568_it0335.jpg


Yonge Street Dock

2011626-yonge-street-docks-1912-f1244_it0254.jpg


Crowd at the Yonge Street Dock

2011626-crowd-yonge-docks-1914-f1244_it2513.jpg


Ferry docks and skyline

2011626-ferry-docks-skyline-1912-14-f1244_it0237a.jpg


1920s

The Foot of Yonge Street (with Board of Trade Building in the background)

2011629-toronto-water-1925-william-james-f1244_it0236b.jpg


Ferry docks

2011626-ferry-docks-1927-s0071_it4941.jpg


TTC-operated ferry

2011626-ttc-ferry-1928-s0071_it5742.jpg


1930s

The Northumberland and a Royal York Hotel-dominated skyline

2011626-ferry-northumberland-skyline-1930-f1244_it1433.jpg


Yonge Docks from the Royal York Hotel

2011626-from-royal-york-1934-f1231_it0965a.jpg


The Trillium

2011626-trillium-ferry-1935-s0071_it10962.jpg


1950s

Skyline from ferry (no modern skyscrapers)

2011630-ferry-1950s_skyline.jpg


1960s

Skyline from ferry (the birth of the TD Centre)

2011630-ferry-1969_skyline.jpg


Skyline from ferry

2011630-toronto-ferry-1969-or-70s-s1465_fl0331_it0063.jpg


1970s

The birth of the CIBC Tower

2011630-toronto-ferry-1970s-s1465_fl0331_it0064.jpg


1980s

First Canadian Place takes its place (completed in 1975)

2011630-skyline-ferry-f0124_fl0008_id0113.jpg


Queen's Quay getting built up

2011627-ferry-wiley-80s-close-f0124_fl0006_id0050.jpg


Skyline from ferry mid 80s

2011627-ferry-far-wiley-80s-f0124_fl0006_id0051.jpg


1990s

Hello, SkyDome

2011114-90s_skyline.jpg


Today

2011626-ferry-water.jpg2011626-ferry-out.jpg2011626-ferry-line-today.jpg2011626-ferry-centre-today.jpg2011626-ferry-close.jpg

Historical photos from the Toronto Archives / Contemporary photos by the author.


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