At the turn of the last century it seemed as if all Torontonians were awakening to the lake as not just a place of commerce but a vast park connected to the city. While they could revive themselves in the “great outdoors” by going east, west or north on the railways, their connection to the landscape was dominated by the lake. They celebrated it as both a social scene and an athletic arena in the numerous recreational sites that dotted the shoreline. Among these the most notable was the Island Park.
The full social spectrum of the city could be seen pressed together on the decks of ferrys crossing from the mainland to the different islands. People came for the thrills offered by the Center Island amusement park, or to cheer their baseball and lacrosse teams in the outdoor sports arenas, or simply to escape the heat by swimming and lounging on the beaches.
For those lucky enough to secure a campsite on the Hanlan’s Point campground or to own a cottage there or on Center Island, day-to-day island culture revolved around boating and swimming.
The clubhouses of the Argonaut Rowing Club, the Royal Canadian Yacht Club (RCYC) and the National Canoe Club were landmarks and their regattas highlights of the season.
The elegant Center Island homes, the Royal Canadian Yacht Club grounds and the boardwalk promenade offered a genteel contrast to the more raucous popular entertainments. For those who came for fleeting visits, the residences, gardens, lawns and stately club houses were among the varied pleasures of the park.
To most people the word “park” would have been associated with an area set aside for public recreation. Alternatively, the same word could suggest a landscaped estate garden. The RCYC was an example of the two meanings of the word coming together: private recreational grounds set within a public park. The club house was designed to serve as a widely visible backdrop to the teas, croquet games and other scenes of refined diversion that could be glimpsed by passers-by.
One could argue that the RCYC’s sense of boundary for their park extended over the waters to the port of Oakville where many of the award-winning yachts were built or repaired. Not only was the town a popular summering hole for many of its members but its harbour served as the turn-around point for club regattas.
During the summer the White Star Steamship Line offered one-day excursion packages to waterfront parks west of the city. The steamer brought out holiday crowds and loaded farm produce for its return trip to the city. Among the most popular destinations for picnickers was Lorne Park just west of Port Credit Harbour. Visitors could roam through the wooded residential park, bathe on the beach and take advantage of the meals, teas and other attractions offered by the hotel in the centre of the park. The park’s seasonal residents maintained the holiday atmosphere through teas, lawn bowling and tennis and meals in the elaborate rustic Victorian dining pavilion. Saturday night dances (dry) and Sunday service were offered in the hotel where the guests intermingled with cottagers and park visitors.
Farther west on the lakeshore were the picnic grounds developed by the White Star company at the foot of Oakville harbour. William James’ captured the lively waterfront scenes, as he recorded them on his frequent hikes from Toronto to Hamilton and back. His photographs highlight the lakeshore, enjoyed by travel on water, rail or road, as an important recreational corridor. Its waterfront parks offered access to the cottage life, if only temporarily, for all classes of Torontonians.
To read more go to Menu: “Paving the Way to Paradise… Chapter 3.
1. city of toronto archives fonds 1244, 6025 Toronto Island 1907
2. city of toronto archives fonds 1244, 175 Hanlan’s Point Hotel
3. city of toronto archives fonds 1244, 163 Hanlan’s Point hotel, regatta 1907
4. city of toronto archives fonds 1244, 153 Centre Island 1907
5. city of toronto archives fonds 1244, 186 Toronto Canoe Club 1910
6. city of toronto archives fonds 1244 182 West Hanlan Point 1907
7. city of toronto archives fonds 1244, 1510 RCYC
8. city of toronto archives fonds 1244, 1055 Oakville Lighthouse 1909?
9. city of toronto archives fonds 1244, 6024 Centre Island 1907