Bliss (well, almost) is an Island off Toronto

Bliss (well, almost) is an Island off Toronto
  • By-line: Betty Lee
  • Created by: The Globe and Mail, Globe Magazine
  • Date: 1968-09-28
  • Provenance: From the collection of Ted English
  • Notes:

1901 on the western sand bar.
It was about this time that Torontonians who had any connection with island real estate became acutely aware of the fact that they owned none of it, but lodged on the archipelago, courtesy of the city government. The displaced houses, said the authori- ties, would be floated gratis by scow from the west- ern finger of Hanlan’s to Sunfish Island, then newly enlarged and redubbed Algonquin.
The cottage owners would have the pick of the available lots, but their new leases would be written to expire in 21 years. If the city then wanted to use the land, the owners would get no compensation for the buildings although they could salvage them.
Lease? Well, by then everyone who lived year- round or summered on the islands was leasing lots from the City of Toronto. Early builders, mainly those on Centre Island and the Lake Shore to the boundary of Ward’s held leases which ran out at various dates up to and including December 1967. These agree- ments stated the owners would receive some compen- sation if the city ever decided to expropriate.
Cottages at the Ward’s end of the island com- plex held camping leases. And although the city gave the owners permission to build wooden sidings around their tents during the 1937 shakeup, the leases plainly stated there would be no civic remuner- ation if the places ever had to go. “But what the hell, Ada? This war is going to
last for a long time. It’ll be years before the leases run out. And maybe the city will never pull them in.”
It looked as though the island optimists might have been right by the time the Second World War was over. During the acute housing shortage of the late Forties, civic authorities were begging veterans to quit searching for homes on the mainland and to set- tle for a dwelling already built on the Toronto Islands.
Hundreds of cottages were winterized by Christ- mas 1949. The grand old homes along the Lake Shore split economically into rooms and flats. The is- lands had their own fire and police protection. They were part of a Toronto ward with two representatives in council. Kids’ baseball teams. Inter-island council meetings. The islands had become a suburb.
Some who were there then say it became a drug. You rushed home to your special world across the bay, tore impatiently away from the noisy, traffic- plagued Thing back there. Bicycles along the board- walk. Parties just about every night and you could turn up in sweatshirt or shorts if you really wanted to. You knew everyone on the beach. You stretched out luxuriously and listened to the sound of silence. And just a mile from all of That back there.
There was another side to it, of course. Evidence of civic neglect. Crumbling breakwaters: Broken side- walks. A main drag that was always flooding and seemed to get sleazier and sleazier as the years went
by. The woman next door who said tearfully one night that the island was just another bloody Peyton Place. The same faces on the bus. The same faces on the ferry. The awful, soul-scarring winters and the freez- ing walk home from the bus stop with your bundles.
When 1956 came and news of the Metro take- over hit all the papers, there were mixed emotions on the island. Scarcely anyone remembers now, how the first cottagers to be eased out really felt when it fi- nally happened. Though there was no doubt some were happy enough to return to the year-round com- fort and anonymity of the mainland, the only thing well publicized was the loud complaint of those who wanted to stay.
By the end of 1966, almost 350 of the islands’ 650 private dwellings had been bulldozed and buried in wide graves by contractors hired by the parks de- partment. The cottagers who remain some of them Durnans, Stevensons and Wards-wait on the thin rim of time.
“It’s tough for some. But you know, we started bulldozing with the compensation properties on the west side so we could give the non-compensa- tion leases a chance.”
“Compensation! Do you think $16,000 for this place is compensation? Why, we couldn’t duplicate it for $30,000 on the mainland.”
“By the end of this century, people will be saying how clever we were to have done it.”
Toronto Public Libraries
1897: The first real concentration of seasonal dwellings was at Hanlan’s Point. Cottages were simple with colorful names. The hotels were mildly magnificent
1947: Grim winters and spring floods nurtured a sense of community 1959: According to Metro plan, cottages make way for more parkland