The History of Toronto Island
Toronto Island is a great spot to stop as part of a Toronto vacation; the entire harbor and waterfront are loaded with fun and fulfilling things to take part in. The city of Toronto is jam packed with amazing attractions including the Toronto Zoo, the CN Tower, the Ontario Science Centre, etc., etc. If you’ve never had the pleasure of a Toronto vacation, the trip is certainly worth it just to explore the history of Toronto Island.
Starting at the ‘beginning’
One of the most interesting bits of history in relation to Toronto Island is also, coincidently, one of the oldest. The Gibraltar Point Lighthouse, built around 1805, is the longest free standing structure of any kind on the island. It’s no longer used for its intended purpose, but it did serve to provide guidance for vessels for more than one hundred and fifty years. The interesting story here doesn’t have anything to do with providing light – it has to do with ghosts.
In 1815, the lighthouse keeper was found dead of a presumed murder and it’s been since rumored that the Gibraltar Point Lighthouse remains his haunting grounds.
Hanlan’s Point Stadium was built on Toronto Island in 1897 to be the home for the Toronto Maple Leaf professional baseball team. The stadium itself was rebuilt on a few occasions over the years and no longer stands today, but in 1914 it was the sight of what would have been one of baseballs most valuable and sought after artifacts. Before all of the hype and hoopla, before the famous nicknames and before he became known as the greatest player to ever take the field, Babe Ruth hit his first professional home run out of Hanlan’s Point Stadium and into the Harbor. Though the artifact was never recovered (presumably), a local bar displays ‘the ball’ for fans to take a gander at while they enjoy a drink.
The true intention of the original colonization of the island was for a ‘summer getaway’ for Toronto residents. Large Victorian style vacation homes were built on the island, and then an elaborate amusement park was erected for entertainment, followed by the sport’s stadium, an airport and the Royal Yacht Club.
The Island today has a more permanent residential section that includes a church and two public schools, but the overall feel of the island remains predominantly as a getaway from the everyday. In 1967 a turn of the century themed amusement park for children was built, recreational boating continues to be extremely popular among residents and visitors to the island who can choose between several boat and yacht clubs. There are also a number of beaches for residents and tourists to swim, play and relax – and for the more daring among the vacationing crowd, there are clothing optional beaches available as well.
Another interesting note about the small group of islands around Toronto Harbor is that collectively they make up the biggest ‘car free’ community throughout North America. All of the roadways are paved, but motor vehicle use is restricted to only service vehicles – if you are on one of the islands and in need of some form of transportation other than your feet there are several locations throughout the island where bicycles, boats and other modalities of self propelled transportation can be rented.
If you’re planning a vacation to Toronto, your trip could easily be overfilled by all of the amazing attractions on the mainland, but you’d really be selling yourself short if you didn’t stop by and drink in some of the incredible history that Toronto Island has to offer.