Toronto Island history

There are many different versions of our history, however we will try to represent the majority of opinions in our recount.

The Toronto Islands were not always islands but actually a series of continuously moving sand-bars, or littoral drift deposits, originating from the Scarborough Bluffs and carried westward by Lake Ontario currents. By the early 1800s, 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.

The Toronto Islands are traditional territories of the Wendat, Anishinabek Nation, the Haudenosaunee Confederacy, the Mississaugas of the New Credit First Nations and the Metis Nation. Aboriginal peoples have lived in Canada for thousands of years, dating back to 10,000 years ago.

The Wendat, meaning "people of the island", were a confederacy of four Iroquoion speaking nations. They occupied the Toronto area, northward to Lake Simcoe and Georgian Bay in the 15th century. The Wendat lived in longhouses, in villages of hundreds to thousands of people. Their communities were largely agricultural, growing maize, squash and beans along rivers. The Wendat also hunted, fished and foraged for food.

In the language of the Mississauga people, Toronto means "trees standing in water", referring to a common occurrence, then and now. It was believed that the pennisula was a place with medicinal benefits. 

John Graves Simcoe chose this location to be the capital of Upper Canada. He chose this location for several reasons, it was very accessible by the most common form of transportation - water and it was easily defensible due to the Island protecting the harbour surrounding the area. In 1794 work was begun on building storehouses and a guardhouse.

In 1850, the young engineer Sanford Fleming studied the sand-bar movement and calculated that twelve hectares had been added to the western section of the sand-bars over the previous fifty years. During that decade, 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. The Eastern Gap has since become an important shipping route into the Toronto Harbour. 

Dredging projects have been undertaken to stabilize shorelines, reduce sand-bar movement, create deeper boating channels, or raise land levels generally. During 1904-6, a channel was cut north of the Island Filtration Plant, alongside Hiawatha Avenue. In 1909, Long Pond was dredged to replace the regatta course previously located at Hanlan’s Point. The resulting material was used to enlarge Mugg’s Island. Similar projects created Olympic Island. 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 (Metro) to be developed as a regional park.