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The Toronto Islands were not always islands but actually a series of continuously moving sand-bars originating from Scarborough Bluffs and carried westward by Lake Ontario currents. Eroded stone of the Scarborough Bluffs was carried westward by Lake Ontario currents to create the islands. By the early 1800's the longest of these bars extended nearly 9 kilometres south-west from Woodbine Avenue, through Ashbridge's Bay and the marshes of the lower Don River, forming a natural harbour between the lake and the mainland.
There is one school, two daycares, and one church on the islands.
Map of Toronto Island
- Map of Toronto Island from Google.com
- Toronto Island Park Map from the City of Toronto
- Toronto Island Explorer's Guide: A Naturalist's Perspective by Joanna Kidd for the Parks & recreation Department, City of Toronto
- Toronto Island iTour from Heritage Toronto
For perhaps as long as 5,000 years, the Toronto Islands have been cherished as a place of healing. Although the First Nations peoples did not live here, they used it for hunting, fishing and spiritual purposes.
In 1793, Lieutenant Governor John Graves Simcoe arrived to found the Town of York as a new capital for Upper Canada. His wife, Elizabeth, immediately embraced the Peninsula, the forerunner of our present day Islands, which she referred to as her “favourite sands”. She often came to the area to walk, to ride her horse, to picnic or to paint. Her observations as an amateur naturalist and diarist were acute.
The Islands have changed dramatically from the Peninsula of Elizabeth Simcoe’s day. Today, they serve many functions. Ward’s and Algonquin Islands are home to one of Toronto’s oldest residential communities. The Islands also contain an airport, a Natural Science and Public School, and Toronto’s oldest water filtration plant. They host three yacht clubs and a public marina. The Toronto Islands Park provides recreational opportunities for residents of Toronto and beyond. About 1.25 million people visit the Islands each year to experience their tranquility, to picnic, to cycle, skate or walk, to fish, to birdwatch, to sail or canoe, and to enjoy its unparalleled vistas. With care, the Islands will function forever as a haven in which people can escape the stress of urban living, experience spiritual renewal and become reconnected with nature.
The sand bars were first surveyed in 1792 by the British Navy, but they were well known by native people, who considered them a place of leisure and relaxation. The main peninsula became known to European settlers as the “Island of Hiawatha”. A carriage path from York which led to Gibraltar Point was very popular during the 1800’s. It later became known as Lake Shore Avenue. Part of the boardwalk on Centre Island traces this same route. A number of severe storms and their strong wave action worked to erode the peninsula, requiring frequent repair to small gaps until finally, in 1858, an island was created when a storm completely separated the peninsula from the mainland and the gap was not repaired. Ward’s Island and Island Park developed as resort communities. By the 1800’s, many of Toronto’s wealthiest families built beautiful Victorian summer homes along Lake Shore Avenue, east from Manitou Road to Ward’s Island. The west side of the island, Hanlan’s Point was commonly known as West Point. It rapidly became a resort destination: the first summer cottage community was found here. Hotels, an amusement park and a baseball stadium for 10,000 spectators were built in the 1890s-1910. Babe Ruth hit his first professional home run here.
In 1852, a storm flooded sand pits on the peninsula, creating a channel east of Ward's. The channel was widened and made permanent by a violent storm in 1858. The channel became known as the Eastern Gap. The peninsula to the west became known as the Toronto Islands. To the east of the Gap, the area of today's Cherry Beach was known as "Fisherman's Island". Sediment deposition was halted in the 1960s when the Leslie Street Spit was extended beyond the southern edge of the islands. Left to nature, the islands would diminish over time, but this is limited due to hard shore lines built to limit erosion. Over the years land reclamation has contributed to an increase in the size of the islands. The harbour was shallow with a sandy bottom and the sands were moved by dredging or suction methods. Ward's Island was expanded by dredging. Today's Algonquin Island, formerly known as Sunfish Island, was created from harbour bottom sands. Ojibwa who were the last people to occupy the area bfore European contact.
High lake levels continually damaged island properties and, on January 1, 1956, the City of Toronto transferred responsibility for the Toronto Islands to the Municipality of Metropolitan Toronto to be developed as a regional park.
At its peak in the 1950s, the Island residential community extended from Ward's Island to Hanlan's Point, and was made up of some 630 cottages and homes, in addition to such amenities as a movie theatre, a bowling alley, stores, hotels, and dance halls. Not long after its creation in 1953, Metropolitan Toronto Council undertook to remove the community and replace it with parkland. The construction of the Gardiner Expressway had removed many acres of recreational land along the Toronto waterfront, and the Islands lands were to replace the acreage. In 1955, after the City had transferred the lands to Metro, the new Metro Parks Department started to demolish homes and cottages whose lease had expired or whose lease holders gave up their leases. In 1959, the Metro Parks Department opened 'Far Enough Farm', and in 1967, opened the Centreville Amusement Park, along with a new public marina. In 1971, Metro Parks opened a new ferry terminal at the foot of Bay Street. Unlike the previous terminal, no waiting room was provided.
From the late 1880s on, many Torontonians built summer homes on Toronto Island to escape the summer heat in the city. Wealthy families like the Masseys and the Gooderhams, who were among the founding members of the Royal Canadian Yacht Club, built grand, summer homes along Lakeshore Avenue (on the Boardwalk) from Ward's west to Centre Island on 50 by 200 foot lots from the lakefront to Cibola Avenue and the lagoon. Before the Second World War, 750 summer homes and more modest cottages existed on the Island extending from Hanlan's Point to Ward's. In response to Toronto?s post-war housing shortage after the war, many Island houses became occupied year-round. Soon after the creation of the Metropolitan Toronto government in 1953, the new Metro Parks department decided to demolish all the houses on the Island to eliminate problems caused by periodic flooding (in 1947 and 1952, for example) and to create a vast, empty public park, even though at the time more than half the Island was public space. In 1954 Metro parks started demolishing Island homes on Hanlan's Point and proceeded easterly. By 1968, they had reached Lakeshore. You can still see stone remnants of front walls built to protect residents from waves before the seawall was raised in 1952, remnants of gardens (lilacs, spirea, mock orange, raspberries) and even some original house foundations. The Rectory and the Shaw House to the west are the only survivors of Metro Toronto's raizing of the Island in the 1960s. The Rectory is a two-story, stucco residence built in 1948 by the engineer who rebuilt the seawall along the boardwalk. Presumably, he used the same construction techniques in the house as on the seawall - poured reinforced concrete. Thus, Metro couldn't demolish his house with their bulldozers as they did the other, wood-frame houses at Hanlan's, Centre and along the Boardwalk. For many years after the demolitions, the Rectory housed the priest in charge of the Church of St. Andrew-by-the-Lake at Centre hence, its name. Later it served as an annex to the Sunshine Seniors Centre (to the east). Eventually, after the community-saving legislation was passed in 1993, the building became part of the Land Trust, and now contains offices and community meeting rooms as well as The Rectory Café and Island Art Gallery
The water levels in the Great Lakes fluctuate annually as the seasons change and over longer cycles lasting many years. Over thousands of years, native shoreline plant communities have adapted to this changing water regime. However, the damming of the St. Lawrence River in the 1950s to create the St. Lawrence Seaway moderated the natural fluctuations of the lakes. This has affected coastal plant communities that depend on fluctuations in water levels, and the wildlife communities such as shorebirds that take advantage of these changes. On the Islands, the plant communities that have been most affected by the moderation of lake fluctuations are shoreline plants and those that inhabit wet meadows and seasonal ponds. In the low water years at the end of the 1990s, emergent plants – plants with leaves that extend above the water’s surface such as sedges, grasses and rushes – began to get established on some of the Islands’ previously barren lagoon edges. This provided improved habitat for frogs, fish and insects. At the same time, however, low levels of water in the Islands’ ponds reduced the breeding success of toads and frogs. This is an illustration of how nature at the same time can often both “giveth and taketh away”.
Ward's Island, actually the east section of the old peninsula, was named after the Ward family who first settled here about 1830. David Ward, a local fisherman, raised seven children. His son, William, built the landmark Ward's Hotel in 1882, just south of the ferry docks at Channel Avenue. Originally the building had two floors and a central, third story tower, but in 1922 the tower and upper floor were removed after the structure deteriorated. The remaining building operated as a grocery supply and ice-cream parlour until its demolition in 1966. The hotel, in addition to Wiman's Baths, built in 1881, created a pleasant resort that attracted.
Babe Ruth's First Home Run
ack in the late 1800's Hanlan's Point, near Toronto's current Island Airport, was Canada's answer to Coney Island. Named for world-record rower Edward 'Ned' Hanlan, it had a vaudeville theatre, dancing, an amusement park, and popular roller coaster called 'The Big Scream'. In 1909 a stadium was built where the airport is now. It was destroyed in a fire, but rebuilt a year later, and it was here in September 5, 1914. that a 19-year-old Babe Ruth hit is first professional home run. It's believed the ball is still in the lake. More than 1,225,000 million people visit the Toronto Islands annually. You can get there easily by taking an inexpensive 10-minute ferry ride from the foot of Yonge St. Centre Island, with its small amusement park, picnic areas, beach, bike rentals, etc., is popular for families. Today, Hanlan's Point, at the west end of the island (where you find this plaque), is known for its 'clothing optional' beach and its popularity with Toronto's gay community.
Ruth was playing for the visiting Providence Grays and pitched a one-hitter against the Leafs to go along with his three-run home run over the right-field wall in a 9-0 win for Providence.
The Maple Leafs left the Toronto Islands for Maple Leaf Stadium after the 1925 season. In March 1927, the parks commissioner of the City of Toronto requested tenders for the demolition of the bleachers. The city architect had deemed them to be unsafe. The field remained in use until the construction of the Toronto Island Airport in 1937, when the area surrounding the airfield was converted to parkland. Source: http://www.canadacool.com/COOLFACTS/ONTARIO/TorontoBabeRuth.html
The Toronto Islands Birding and Site Guide created by Norman C. Murr provides an excellent guide to the birds and natural habitat of the area. "The Islands are comprised of a variety of habitats from woodland and shrub‐land to meadow and sand dunes, ponds, lagoons and an extensive shore line. There is a good mix of deciduous and evergreen vegetation. For the birds arriving from the south in the spring the Islands are the first green space in the extensively built‐up waterfront and in the fall they offer a resting and feeding place for the birds before they start the crossing of the lake on their way south." Read the Toronto Islands Birding and Site Guide.
Hanlan's Point Stadium
Hanlan's Point Stadium was a baseball stadium and lacrosse grounds in Toronto. It was erected in 1897 at Hanlan's Point on the Toronto Islands for the minor league Toronto Maple Leafs baseball club. It was destroyed by fire twice, in 1903, and again in 1909. Adjacent to the Hanlan's Point Amusement Park, the site was in use for various sports until the late 1930s. Baseball legend Babe Ruth hit his first major league home run at Hanlan's Point on Toronto Island Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hanlan%27s_Point_Stadium
Learn about trees and their GPS location on Toronto Island with the Toronto Island Tree Tour.
Lakeside Home for Little Children
The Lakeside Home for Little Children was the convalescent branch of the Hospital for Sick Children located on Gibralter Point, Toronto Island. Source: Our Roots, University of Calgary http://www.ourroots.ca/e/toc.aspx?id=3019
Podcast About the History of Toronto Island
Heritage Toronto provides this iTour podcast and a guide map. Start by taking the Hanlan's Point ferry and then you'll bike through the Island all the way to the Ward's Island ferry dock, where you can catch a ferry for the return trip. Along the way, the iTour talks about the history of the Island, and why it has been an important part of the city for as long as there has been a city of Toronto.
Before the iTour proper starts, you'll hear a little about the history and the culture of the Toronto Island from two former Island residents - actor Mathew Ferguson and writer Alison Gzowski. You can listen to their thoughts about the Island during the ferry ride over, or while you're waiting for the ferry to arrive.