Toronto Island Sense of Place


Many people, animals, weather and centuries have developed what we call the Toronto Islands. While much of the Island’s history remains unknown, it is important that we acknowledge what came before us and what the future may hold. Here’s a challenge:  Instead of seeing ourselves as the end of a timeline, imagine us as visitors or guests in this place.  How might this change our perspective?  


This area was full of life long before the European explorers, who are often given credit for “discovering” North America.  It was 3.6 billion years ago when the first micro organisms lived on this planet, and hundreds of millions of years ago when plants and animals like ferns and dinosaurs were here.  The first humans came to North America 15 000 years ago, and weren’t in this area until about 12 000 years ago.


It’s hard to trace the exact history of humans in the Toronto area because they were nomadic, which means they moved from one place to another, instead of living in one place.  What we would like to acknowledge, is that this school is situated upon traditional territories.  The territories include the Wendat, Anishinabak Nation, the Haudenosaunee Confederacy, the Mississaugas of the New Credit First Nations, and the Metis Nation.  We also recognize the enduring presence of Aboriginal peoples on the land.


The Indigenous people of this area honoured this land for it’s access to water, food and travel, and thought of this land as a healing place.  The place was so special that they would not live directly in the area, but would only come here looking for wellness and health.  As Europeans entered North America, they valued this land too, and tried to claim the area for themselves. They took the land, named it the Town of York, and started building more permanent structures.  The treaty that was signed for this particular parcel of land is collectively referred to as the Toronto Purchase and applies to lands east of Brown’s Line to Woodbine Avenue and north towards Newmarket.


In 1834, the area was renamed to the City of Toronto, and as the city grew, so did the plans for the Island.  In 1878, houses started to be built on Toronto Island, and in the 1960s and 70s, Toronto Island was a hub of activity with 630 cottages and homes, an amusement park, farm, baseball diamond, and yacht club!  Not long after, the City of Toronto began demolishing homes in order to turn more of the Island into a public park. Today, many of these points of history still exist: 250 homes were kept, and continue to be year-round residences, Centreville continues to be an amusement park in the summer months, and the Toronto Island airport continues to grow.  


What is being done to preserve the beautiful wild spaces that were so honoured and respected centuries ago?  Luckily, Toronto Parks have worked to preserve many spaces for wild plants and animals.  There are also many spaces where humans and wild species interact, like the Pollinator Garden in Franklin’s Garden, and the protected Sand Dunes on the south beach.  While YOU are visiting the Toronto Islands, we hope you find the magical wild spaces that have been shared with so many others, and may we continue to take care of these spaces for those visiting in the future.