Toronto Harbour-The Passing Years

Toronto Harbour-The Passing Years

Toronto Harbour – The Passing Years, A Sesquicentennial Project

  • Created by: Toronto Harbour Commission
  • Date: 1985
  • Provenance: Scanned by Ted English; PDF by Eric Zhelka
  • Notes: Includes an extensive text and photo summary of Toronto Harbour and Island History and development.
    The last page recounts the sinking of the QCYC’s boathouse (1920).

Barnacle Bill Durnan

Barnacle Bill Durnan
  • Title: Barnacle Bill Durnan
  • Created by: “News ‘n Views”, Vol XII No I, May 1973, a City of Toronto Employee Union publication
  • Date: 1973-05-01
  • Provenance: From the collection of Ted English, digitized by Eric Zhelka
  • Notes:

Barnacle William Bill Durnan
In the early eighteen-thirties, 1830s, James Durnan took up residence and ran the , Hanlan’s Point Lighthouse on Gibraltar Point at the south west corner of Toronto Island. James fathered a family famous in the Lake Life of Toronto Harbour. Today James’s great-great-grandson Bill is a member of Local 79 and is working Metro Roads and Traffic Department.
For the past several decades Bill has led a marine life; he’s a lean fit man in his middle years.
During the war, he and a couple of his Toronto buddies signed on with an American freighter before the days of the convoy system. His ship sailed alone through U-boat infested waters. On one trip to Rio de Janeiro, he counted seventeen wrecks that had been torpedoed and rested on the shoals off the U.S. Coast. “They seemed to hit the tankers worse than anything,” Bill told me, “I saw one tanker go down and there was an oil spill over the ocean a mile in diameter.” In the past two and a half decades Bill spent a dozen or so years operating a water-taxi in the harbour. One event which he will never forget happened in 1949. He was headed out toward the Western Gap carrying four passengers when he saw a red glow coming from the centre mainland. It turned out to be the passenger steamer S.S. Noronic which caught fire at Pier 9 at the foot of Yonge Street. Bill and his passengers turned and raced to the stricken vessel to aid in the rescue operations.
“It was an eerie scene, the sky was all red and you could hear the sirens from way off. Over a hundred and twenty people were burned to death; many were lucky enough to be able to jump overboard and we picked up nine of them all cold and shivering. It was really grim.”
Bill lives in an attractive cottage on a lagoon on Ward’s Island. Late last summer he invited Mo Todd and me over, and dined us on great big turkey legs and Scotch. It was a very enjoyable and relaxing evening. The cottage is filled with mementos from the past; collectors would drool over them; among them a ship’s compass from a Great Lakes sailing vessel, a nautical painting by his mother, inserted into a porthole. A collection of old rifles, pistols and bayonets covers the wall over the fireplace.
Bill let us browse through many other interesting things. I glanced through a ‘Handbook for Masters’; a book on Nautical Mathematics; and another book on his lineal descendants from 1800. The souvenirs are endless, life preservers from the Noronic and the Bluebell, a machine gun from a Hawker Hurricane, a clipping from the early nineteen hundreds honouring his grandfather George who ran the lighthouse for over half a century; and another news item with a picture of his cousin, Eddie Durnan, who became the American Sculling Champion in 1907.
After dinner we walked across the road to the dock where Bill keeps his two boats. He showed us over his tug, ‘The Chuckie Joe’, and then we sat and had a drink on board his shipshape little cabin cruiser, ‘The Sandra Sue’.
Bill loves animals and is quite an animal trainer. He has a cat named Spider. Spider eats and performs his duties to a miniature ship’s bell which hangs in the kitchen. On one bell Spider walks like clockwork to his plate; there he stands at attention until two bells, at which time he commences eating.
Bill also had a dog named Mike. Mike unfortunately got drowned in the lagoon a while ago. When he was alive, Mike had the honour of being the only dog allowed into the Queen City Yacht Club. He had this honour because he could play the piano. Bill had taught him. Mike, a mixture of German Shepherd and Spaniel, sat on the piano stool and banged away as long as members kept his bowl filled with beer.
Some of Bill’s relatives still have a boathouse on Hanlan’s Point: they rent boats and run water-taxis. The business dates back a hundred years. It was started before the time Bill’s grandfather George found the bones of the first lighthouse keeper buried in a box in the sand at the water’s edge. He was a friendly old German by the name of Muller. It is said that he was brutally murdered by some drunken soldiers from the blockhouse a mile north of the point. To this day, Muller’s ghost, it is claimed, can be heard at night climbing the stairs to light the lamp.
I asked Bill about the tale and he told me it was a lot of nonsense; I was hoping for a confirmation of the ghost tale, and I can’t help wishing that Bill had spun me a bit of a yarn.
It is a pleasant experience to work with Bill Durnan. Mo. Todd and I often
have lunch together; all who know him find him a very colourful man.

Rundown cabin is not just for anyone

Rundown cabin is not just for anyone

Rundown cabin is not just for anyone

While housing prices have taken a recent tumble, an old wooden cabin going for $22,900 on the Toronto Island on Lake Ontario still seems like an absolute steal.

The chocolate-brown house on Ward’s Island is one of just 262 in North America’s largest car-free community, just a 10-minute ferry ride away from the heart of downtown, with a stunning view of the skyline.

But No. 12 Second Street isn’t on any real estate listings, and not just anyone can put in an offer. The price is fixed (and doesn’t include $48,825 for the lease), and you have to be on a special “purchasers list” to qualify as a potential buyer.

Even still, the cabin is a definite teardown, with a rodent-sized hole chewed through a front-facing log, piles of dead leaves on the deck, cobwebs around the window screens and a contented community of raccoons living at the back.

“It’s totally unrealistic to think you can get a livable house for $22,900,” said Pam Mazza, a long-time Island resident. “What you’re really buying is an opportunity to live on the Island, to live on a land trust and to be serviced by a boat.”

The Island offers a unique blend of urban and country living. Blustery in the winter, it is an idyllic spot in summer with clean beaches and bike trails that run its entire length. It maintains a rare sense of neighbourliness, and is at once safe, tranquil and spirited, attracting artists, writers, professors and teachers.

The Island, which used to be municipal land, was transferred to the province through a land swap in 1993 to resolve a long-standing dispute between Island residents and Metropolitan Toronto, which wanted to turn their homes into parkland. The Toronto Islands Residential Community Trust Corporation was created.

Whenever a house comes up for sale, it is offered to the first 100 people on a list of 500 potential purchasers. Openings on the list are filled through a lottery system.

The Trust board, composed of two island residents and four provincial bureaucrats, acts as the intermediary between buyer and seller. Once the sale offers go out, potential buyers are given several weeks to respond, and the sale is awarded to the person who holds the lowest number on the list.

There is no negotiation about the price, which is based on the replacement cost, and determined by a set formula. “When you have a trust, you don’t participate in market real estate forces and there are no windfall profits,” Trust chairwoman Ellen Allen said.

Yesterday, a man who is No. 64 on the list came by to look at the most recent listing, which sits on a 40-foot-by-50-foot lot. “He’s been on the list for 14 years,” said Ruth Howard, who lives across the street.

Even though renovation costs are 30 to 40 per cent higher than in the city, because of the logistical difficulties of bringing in construction materials, turnover of residents is very low. “Living here isn’t necessarily a good financial deal,” Ms. Howard said. “It is the lifestyle.”

A retail-free zone, there are no shops, dry cleaners or grocery stores here, although there is a primary school. Residents get around by bike and haul their groceries in wagons from the city.

Originally, the Island was a sandy, marshy peninsula. However, in 1858 a major storm cut through the narrow eastern neck and created an island. It was first populated by fishermen, but soon cottages were built and by the turn of the century the summer population had reached between 1,000 and 3,000, and included prominent Toronto families such as the Masseys and the Gooderhams, according to The Essential Toronto Island Guide, by long-time residents Linda Rosenbaum and Peter Dean.

In the 1950s, the Metro government wanted to turn the entire island into a park, and bulldozed 750 homes at Hanlan’s Point. The remaining islanders put up a fight to save their community, a battle that wasn’t settled until the land swap in 1993. The Island remains a very popular place to live.

“We can’t guarantee there will even be a house sold every year,” said Ms. Mazza. “If you’re in the first 100 on the list, you’ll likely get a chance to put in an offer. But you won’t get the house unless the other 99 people ahead of you don’t want it.”


Structures Toronto: Island Community

Created by: Rogers Details: Date: Original airdate 2011 Provenance: via YouTube Notes:  Most of us know the Toronto Islands for Billy Bishop Airport and Centreville Theme Park. But did you know that people have been living there for centuries?  While the centre and west sides once had an amusement park, hotel, summer residences and …