Tag Archives: Hanlan’s point Toronto

Gibraltar Point Lighthouse — Hanlan’s Point


                  Gibraltar Point lighthouse at Hanlan’s Point, Toronto Islands

Recently I dined at a restaurant located atop one of the city’s towering skyscrapers that overlooks Toronto Harbour. The ever-changing panorama was mesmerizing. The dazzling pinpoints of light from the downtown buildings illuminated the darkness, their brilliance augmented by the many streams of red and white from the myriad of cars snaking along the Gardiner Expressway, Front Street, and the Lakeshore Road.

I tried to imagine the same harbour scene during the last decade of the 18th century, when it would have been enveloped in almost total darkness. The few flickering candles in the windows of the small cabins clustered around the eastern side of the harbour would not have been visible from my modern-day perch. Thankfully, we have a first-hand account of how the islands and the harbour area appeared in those long-ago decades.

In May 1793, Mrs. Elizabeth Simcoe, wife of Lieutenant Governor Simcoe, arrived in Toronto. After the tents, which were to be her home for the forthcoming months, were set-up beside the lake, she commenced exploring, recording and sketching the environs of the settlement. Elizabeth wrote: “We rode on the peninsula opposite Toronto, so I called the spit of land, for it is united to the mainland by a very narrow neck of ground.”

The peninsula is today known as the Toronto Islands, as in later years it was separated from the mainland by a fierce storm that washed away the sandbar at the eastern end of the harbour. How did the peninsula appear in the 1790s?

Elizabeth described it as having “. . . natural meadows and ponds, its poplar trees covered with wild vines, the ground where everlasting peas of purple colour were creeping in abundance, and where wild lilies-of-the-valley grew.” She discovered the sands bordering the open lake, and referred to these as, “my favourite sands.” She visited them time and time again “. . . praising the sweep of the wild fresh air, riding on the hard white surface, watching the antics of unnumbered wild fowl, and listening to the cry of the loons.” The peninsula [today’s Toronto Islands] was reached by boat, a mile across the bay when parties would land on Hanlan’s Point [its modern name]. Elizabeth added, “The Governor thinks the manner in which the sand banks are formed that they are capable of being fortified, he therefore calls it ‘Gibraltar Point’.”

Governor Simcoe thought that the land at the mouth of the harbour was as strategically important to Toronto as the rock that stands guard at Gibraltar, at the entrance to the Mediterranean. Thus, a carriage route was cut along the peninsula to connect the mainland to Gibraltar Point. It later evolved into Lake Shore Avenue, the main east-west axis along today’s Centre Island.

The small colonial town continue to develop. “The bay front and harbour, where it all began, and which for any years the main depot of transportation, was growing in wharves and landing stages. The first to be built was the landing of military stores at the garrison, [and soon] were added added Peter, John and Church Streets.” (Katherine Hale, “Toronto, Romance of a Great City,” Cassell and Company Limited, 1956),

It quickly became evident that it was important to assist ships to enter the harbour safely, to unload their goods at the newly-built wharves. “In 1799, Peter Hunter arrived as the new Lieutenant Governor of Upper Canada. . . he instructed that a lighthouse be constructed on Gibraltar Point, built of limestone quarried in Queenston.” (Frederick H. Armstrong, “Toronto, The Place of Meeting,” Ontario Historical Society Windsor Publication, published 1983.)

In 1803 an act was passed by the Provincial Legislature for the establishment of lighthouses. One of them was on Gibraltar Point. According to the act “. . . a fund for the erection and maintenance of such lighthouses was to be formed by levying three-pence per ton on every vessel, boat, raft, or other craft of the burthen of ten tons and upward shall be liable to pay any lighthouse duty . . .”

“. . . a lighthouse was begun at the point of York . . . the Mohawk was employed in bringing over stone for the purpose from Queenston; and that Mr. John Thompson, still living in 1873, was engaged in the actual erection of the building . . . (“Toronto of Old,” Henry Scadding).

In the decade when the lighthouse was being built, “The peninsula in front of York was plentifully stocked with goats, the offspring of a small colony established by order of Peter Hunter at Gibraltar Point for the sake, for one thing, of the supposed salutary nature of the whey of goat’s milk. These animals were dispersed during the War of 1812-1815.” (“Toronto of Old,” Henry Scadding).

The lighthouse was completed in 1808, the walls six-feet thick at its base. It was “a hexagon tapered tower, 52 feet high, on a six-sided oaken crib, with a wooden lantern cage 18 feet high above the stonework. In 1832, a perpendicular addition of stone atop the tapered tower increased the height of the lighthouse by 12 feet, making it 82 feet to the vane. The lantern cage was later replaced by an iron one, when a change was made from a fixed light, burning 200 gallons of whale oil a year, to a revolving occulting light of greater power, operated by a clockwork mechanism.” (Source: “Historic Toronto, Toronto Civic Historical Committee, February 1953.”).

The first lighthouse keeper, J. P. Rademuller, a German who had immigrated to Upper Canada. He kept watch at Gibraltar Point for enemy ships and friendly vessels returning to a safe harbour at York. He was in residence at the lighthouse during the Battle of York in 1813, when American ships invaded the town of York.

The lighthouse was in a secluded location, and its glowing beacon was easy to spot. As a result, it became a focal point for smugglers that wished to avoid taxes on imported goods, particularly alcohol. Some sources state that it was common knowledge that Rademuller kept a supply of home-brewed ale in his home beside the lighthouse. John Paul Rademuller disappeared under mysterious circumstances on January 2, 1815. It was alleged that he had been murdered by two soldiers who had been enjoying his home-brewed beer. They were arrested but eventually set free as there was insufficient evidence—Rademuller’s body was never found.

One version of the story states that Rademuller was killed after the soldiers bought the beer, but complained that its alcoholic content was low as it had become frozen during the cold winter weather. They felt that the lighthouse keeper was trying to rip them off. Whether or not this was true, most sources agree that Rademuller was killed that night and dismembered by his killers, who buried his body parts in various graves near the lighthouse. His ghost is said to still haunt the site.

The story of the murder was recorded by John Ross Robertson in his book, “Landmarks of Toronto”, written in 1908, and it has become a source for ghost stories ever since. But Robertson raises scepticism that the event ever occurred. He admitted that he had learned the details from the current lighthouse keeper in the 1870s, George Durnan, who had apparently gone looking for a body and had dug up a coffin containing a jawbone. Despite this, the historic plaque on the lighthouse mentions the ghost story and the jawbone, although many historians thought that this was not appropriate as it was not a proven fact. (For a link to discover more information about the murder,, and )

Image cropped and thumbnail updated April 2011

The painting on the left entitled, “View of York,” c. 1815,” is by Robert Irvine, and is today in the collection of the AGO. The painting depicts the lighthouse on Gibraltar Point in 1815. Irving was captured in September of 1813, during the War of 1812, and released from an American prison in September 1814. After the war, he was employed by the military and lived in York until 1817. In April 1830, records reveal that he was residing in Scotland. (Source: “Government of Fire,” Frank A. Dieterman and Ronald F. Williamson, Archaeological Services, 2001).

When completed, the lighthouse was the tallest structure in the city and remained so for nearly 50 years. Its power source was switched to coal-oil in 1863 and, then, to electric in 1916. The lighthouse still stands, but it no longer guides ships as it did for over a hundred years. It is still on Gibraltar Point, although because of the silt that has built-up over the years, the tower is now about 100 meters from the water’s edge. It was decommissioned in 1958, and is Toronto’s oldest building situated on its original foundation.


1894  sketch pictures-r-450[1]

Sketch of the lighthouse and the lighthouse keeper’s cottage in 1894. Toronto Public Library, r-450.


Undated sketch of the lighthouse from the book “Historic Toronto,” by the Toronto Historical Society, published in 1953. Today, the structure is no longer at the edge of the water. Because of the silt that has been deposited on the shoreline, it is 100 metres from the water.

off Gibral. Point 1884  Tor. Pub. 987-10-2[1]

Watercolour depicting ships off Gibraltar Point in 1894. Toronto Public Library 987-10-2 

                 Ont. Archives 1915

        Gibraltar Point Lighthouse in 1915. Ontario Archives F-4336.

f1231_it1015b[1] 1909

View gazing west at the lighthouse on Gibraltar Point in 1919, with private summer cottages lining the shoreline. Toronto Archives, Fonds 1231, item 10156.

1940, Toro Pub. I0013724[2]

               Lighthouse in 1940, Toronto Public Library, 10013724.


View from the base, where the stones are six-feet thick. Photo taken in 2010.

         DSCN0619   DSCN0626

Door that opens to the steps to ascend to the top of the lighthouse. The door faces east.


                                      Historic plaque on the lighthouse


Top of the structure where the lamp was located. The stones for the top of the towering lighthouse were quarried in Kingston.


  Limestone base of the tower, the stones brought across the lake from Queenston.

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              Books by the Blog’s Author


“ Lost Toronto”—employing detailed archival photographs, this recaptures the city’s lost theatres, sporting venues, bars, restaurants and shops. This richly illustrated book brings some of Toronto’s most remarkable buildings and much-loved venues back to life. From the loss of John Strachan’s Bishop’s Palace in 1890 to the scrapping of the S. S. Cayuga in 1960 and the closure of the HMV Superstore in 2017, these pages cover more than 150 years of the city’s built heritage to reveal a Toronto that once was.



Toronto’s Theatres and the Golden Age of the Silver Screen,” explores 50 of Toronto’s old theatres and contains over 80 archival photographs of the facades, marquees and interiors of the theatres. It relates anecdotes and stories by the author and others who experienced these grand old movie houses. To place an order for this book, published by History Press: .

Book also available in most book stores such as Chapter/Indigo, the Bell Lightbox and AGO Book Shop. It can also be ordered by phoning University of Toronto Press, Distribution: 416-667-7791 (ISBN 978.1.62619.450.2)



“Toronto’s Movie Theatres of Yesteryear—Brought Back to Thrill You Again” explores 81 theatres. It contains over 125 archival photographs, with interesting anecdotes about these grand old theatres and their fascinating histories. Note: an article on this book was published in Toronto Life Magazine, October 2016 issue.

For a link to the article published by |Toronto Life Magazine:…/photos-old-cinemas-dougtaylortoronto-local-movie-theatres-of-y…

The book is available at local book stores throughout Toronto or for a link to order this book:



 Toronto: Then and Now®

“Toronto Then and Now,” published by Pavilion Press (London, England) explores 75 of the city’s heritage sites. It contains archival and modern photos that allow readers to compare scenes and discover how they have changed over the decades. Note: a review of this book was published in Spacing Magazine, October 2016. For a link to this review:

For further information on ordering this book, follow the link to  here  or contact the publisher directly by the link below:–then-and-now—products-9781910904077.php?page_id=21







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Toronto’s Hanlan’s Point Baseball Stadium (demolished)

Fonds 1244, Item 6048

Hanlan’s Point Stadium in 1912, Toronto Archives, F1244, Item 6048.

My father and one of his brothers arrived in Toronto as young immigrants in 1921. Born in a small village in Newfoundland, which was not yet a province of Canada, there were many wonderful sights that amazed them in their adopted city. One of the most impressive was the city’s baseball stadium at Hanlan’s Point. The Toronto team had relocated to the new stadium on the Islands in 1897, so when my father and uncle arrived in the city, crossing the harbour to attend baseball games was a well-established and much-loved tradition. The Toronto Maple Leaf team was in the International League, a minor league that included Buffalo.

Each year at Hanlan’s, the first ball flew across home plate in May. Admission was 50 cents, which included the return ferry fare across the bay. The stadium at Hanlan’s burnt twice, in 1903 and again in 1909. When it reopened in 1910, the wooden stadium was replaced by a concrete structure containing 18,000 seats, and  was named Maple Leaf Stadium. The legendary Babe Ruth hit the first home run of his professional career in the stadium on September 5, 1914, the ball landing in Toronto Harbour. My father was aware of the history of the stadium and its importance to Toronto’s multitudinous baseball fans.

From the stories my father told me, and the reports in the Star newspaper in the Toronto Reference Library, I have been able to recreate a reasonably accurate account of his first visit to the Hanlan’s Point Stadium, an event that he remembered until the day he passed away. I knew the year it occurred, as it was his first year in Toronto—1921—and he also told me that it was on Labour Day.

In 1921, the weather over September’s Labour Day weekend was hot. On Sunday, the temperatures dipped to 83°F, but they rose again on Monday, September 5th—Labour Day. In this decade, on statutory holidays, newspapers were printed, but the laws forced merchants and offices to close. Thus, my father and his brother had the day off from their labours at the McNamara’s market gardens at Bathurst Street and Davenport Road. They were tempted to visit the Ex, as the Labour Unions were to march to the grounds in the morning, and there was to be a giant sports program in the afternoon. However, they decided to opt for a baseball game. It was an activity that was to become a lifelong passion for them both. The Toronto Maple Leafs baseball team had recently returned from a stretch on the road and was set to play a double-header against the Buffalo Bisons at the stadium on Hanlan’s Point.

Shortly after one o’clock, my father and his brother crossed the harbour on the Primrose, a single-stack, coal-powered ferry with side paddles. A few clouds eased the extreme heat of the afternoon, and the refreshing breezes off the lake further moderated the temperatures. The harbour waters reminded the brothers of their home in Newfoundland, but the skyline visible in the ferry’s wake reinforced the fact that they had indeed opted for a new life.

The city’s other ferries—the Trillium, the Bluebell, and the Mayflower—were also in service, because large crowds were anticipated for the games as Toronto was battling for second place in the International League. Since the game did not commence until 2 pm, my father and his brother mingled with the throngs at Hanlan’s Point Amusement Park. They milled about the mechanical rides, especially the rollercoaster. A ride called the Hurgle Gurgle featured a long, spiralling water-chute with a pool of water at the bottom, where the riders were soaked to the skin. In later years, the water feature was removed from the ride. Though many people were jamming the food stands and the cafeteria beneath the baseball stadium, the young brothers did not purchase anything, as they wished to save their money for snacks during the game.

After entering the stadium, they did not have long to wait, as at two o’clock the first ball rocketed over home plate. The loud crack of the bat resounded throughout the stands as the ball soared out into left field. The spectators roared their approval—Toronto was beginning the afternoon in good form. The stadium’s sightlines were excellent, even in the lower-priced seats, where my father sat with his brother. They had an unobstructed view that allowed them to follow the game closely and scrutinize every manoeuvre.

During their boyhood days in Newfoundland, neither of them had played sports in an organized league. However, they had often formed teams to play ball on the meadow near Man-O-War Hill, or, in winter, hit a ball across the frozen expanse of the harbour. A freeze-up provided a large, flat surface of ice, on which they could enjoy sports for as long as they were able to endure the frigid temperatures.

The experience at Hanlan’s Point was vastly different. The unified shouts of thousands of excited fans, all sharing the same sport and encouraging the same team, caused a surge of adrenaline that the brothers had never experienced. They fell in love with the antics expected of serious fans—yelling, hollering, and screaming at the players. They ate hot dogs while slurping watered-down drinks, and shouted at the players who did not perform well. The umpires became prime targets for abuse when the calls were not in the home team’s favour. It was difficult to know whether the ritualistic reactions of the crowd or the skills of the game were the most entertaining. Despite boisterous encouragement, the Leafs lost the game by one run, and, to add insult to injury, they dumped the evening game at 10 pm as well. The vibrant encouragement of the fans was unable to overcome a lack of luck and talent.

My father’s account of attending a game at Hanlan’s point sounds very much like attending a baseball games today at the Rogers Centre. Some aspects of spectator sports never change.

My father was saddened when attendance at games at Hanlan’s point eventually dropped due to the inconvenience of travelling across the harbour, especially on stormy days during early autumn and spring. The Toronto team departed for the mainland after the 1925 season to a new stadium on the lakefront at the foot of Bathurst Street. It was also named Maple Leaf Stadium.

However, the Hanlan’s Point Amusement Park continued to operate, though attendance began diminishing after Sunnyside opened in 1922. The stadium at Hanlan’s Point was finally demolished in 1937.  


The site of the Hanlan’s Point Stadium on the Toronto Islands.

CA  1908  a029254[1]

Hanlan’s Point amusement park in 1908. Canada Archives, a 029254

CA  1908.  a029251[1]

Hanlan’s Point Stadium in 1908, the wooden structure surrounded by the amusement park. In the background, across the harbour, is the Toronto skyline. Canada Archives, a029251.

Fonds 1244, Item 6046

The Toronto team in the stadium in 1910, the rollercoaster of the amusement park in the background. Toronto Archives, F1244, Item 6046.

Chuckman's, c. 1910 postcard-toronto-hanlans-point-stadium-and-grand-stand-note-buffet-sign-over-centre-doors-c1910[1]

The new concrete stadium, c. 1910. Postcard from

ONt. Archives, Aug. 12, 1927, Jasmine Ferry  I0014001[1]

The Toronto ferry the Jasmine beside the stadium on August 12, 1927. Ontario Archives, 10014001.


The Trillium at Hanlan’s Point on September 1, 1927. Toronto Archives, S0071, Item 5215.

Stadium, illuminated, Hanlan's Point, (Commercial Department) – August 16, 1928

The stadium during a night game in 1928. Toronto Archives, S0071, Item 6154.

Undated 1900.. TRL. e1-46c[1]

Undated photo of the stadium from the Toronto Public Library Collection, e1-46c

T.T.C. picnic, general view of picnic grounds, (Personnel Department) – August 17, 1929

A picnic in the stadium on August 17, 1929. Toronto Archives, S0071, Item 7125. 

Grand Opera "Aida," stadium, Hanlan's Point, (Commercial Department) – 1936

The opera Aida performed in the stadium on August 8, 1936. Toronto Archives, S0071, Item 1150.

To view the Home Page for this blog:

For more information about the topics explored on this blog:

The publication entitled, “Toronto’s Theatres and the Golden Age of the Silver Screen,” was written by the author of this blog. It explores 50 of Toronto’s old theatres and contains over 80 archival photographs of the facades, marquees and interiors of the theatres. It relates anecdotes and stories by the author and others who experienced these grand old movie houses.  


   To place an order for this book: .

Book also available in Chapter/Indigo, the Bell Lightbox Book Shop, and by phoning University of Toronto Press, Distribution: 416-667-7791 (ISBN 978.1.62619.450.2)


Another book, published by Dundurn Press, containing 80 of Toronto’s former movie theatres will be released in June, 2016. It is entitled, “Toronto’s Movie Theatres of Yesteryear—Brought Back to Thrill You Again.” It contains over 125 archival photographs and relates interesting anecdotes about these grand old theatres and their fascinating histories.

                        Toronto: Then and Now®

Another publication, “Toronto Then and Now,” published by Pavilion Press (London, England) explores 75 of the city’s heritage sites. This book will be released in June 2016. For further information follow the link to  here  or contact the publisher directly by the link shown below:–then-and-now—products-9781910904077.php?page_id=21.







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The lost Hanlan’s Hotel on the Toronto Islands

Fonds 1244, Item 176

Hotel Hanlan on Hanlan’s Point on the Toronto Islands, c.1908. Toronto Archives Fonds 1244, Item 0176

The Toronto Islands have been viewed as an idyllic recreational escape from the summer’s humid heat on the mainland since the days when Toronto was the small colonial town of York. Ferry service across the bay commenced in the  1833, powered by horses walking on treadmills. The same year, the first small hotel opened on the Islands. Steam-powered boats began crossing the harbour in the 1850s. At the beginning of that decade, the Islands formed a peninsula, until severe storms in 1852 and 1858 washed away the low-lying sandbars that formed an isthmus at the harbour’s eastern end, creating an open channel that became known as the Eastern gap. 

The Islands were crown land that was ceded to the City of Toronto after Confederation in 1867. The city leased property on the Islands, but the there was no official plan so the leases and grants were haphazardly parcelled out. However, most people visited the Island on day-trips, the wide sandy beaches on West Point (today’s Hanlan’s Point) particularly attractive to sun bathers. Lieutenant Governor Simcoe referred to this area as Gibraltar Point, but the name now seems to apply only to the southwest part where the historic stone lighthouse is located.

In the early 1870s, City Council studied ways to develop the Islands properly. At the time they were mostly grasslands and trees, many of which were ancient willows, well suited to the low-lying sandy soil. Landfill was employed to create more islands and extend small peninsulas such as West Point.

Because of the increased number of visitors, in the 1860s John Hanlan, an Irishman immigrant and former fisherman, was appointed as constable to patrol the beaches and parklands. In the early 1870s, he built a one-storey frame home on West Point (east of Gibraltar Point) and a wharf beside it. A boathouse adjacent to the wharf accommodated visitors who arrived by boat. During these years, there were few places on the Islands for people wishing to remain overnight. They stayed in tents, boarding houses, and a few small hotels. In 1878, John Hanlan responded to the need and converted his house into a hotel, which by 1880 had expanded to contain 25 rooms. 


      Hanlan’s Hotel and wharf, c. 1880, Toronto Public Library, r-3433

1884 Atlas of the city of Toronto and suburbs from special survey and registered plans showing all buildings and lot numbers r-12[1]

This 1884 map in the collection of the Toronto Archives reveals the location of the Hanlan Hotel, on the northern tip of the peninsula.

1889, R. L. Polk and Comany, Tor. Archives  [1]

This 1889 map depicts Hanlan’s Point and the hotel on the northern tip of the small eastern peninsula. Map by R. L. Polk and Company, Toronto Archives. Landfill joined these two small peninsulas into one land mass and the area to the north of Hanlan’s Hotel was eve eventually filled in, and is where the airport on the Island is located today.

John Hanlan’s son, Edward (Ned) Hanlan, born in 1855, spent his boyhood on the Islands, becoming a skilled oarsman at an early age. While attending George Street Public School on the mainland, he rowed across the harbour each day. When he was 18, he won the championship of Toronto Bay in rowing, a highly popular sport in that day, as it involved extensive gambling. Four years later, he won the American championship, and in 1878, the American title. On November 15, 1880, he won the world championship on the Thames River in England, the first Canadian athlete to receive world recognition. Hanlan won over 300 races during his professional career.

At the pinnacle of his fame, Ned Hanlan took over the management of his father’s hotel. Grateful for the fame Hanlan had brought to the city, Toronto City Council officially changed the name of West Point to Hanlan’s Point, which it retains today. Shortly after, Ned leased 1.2 hectares of land on Hanlan’s Point, near the home where he had spent his boyhood, to extend his father’s hotel business.

In 1880, he constructed a larger hotel, a three-storey structure in a variation of the Second Empire style, designed by the firm of McCaw and Lennox. It was a frame building, its exterior covered with wide boards cut in a sawmill. Constructed entirely of wood, only the hotel’s foundations contained any masonry. Its overall appearance, with its many wings, ornate trim and pointed cupolas, appeared light and airy. In the eyes of many, it was akin to a summer palace, an ideal place to holiday during the hot, humid Toronto days of July and August. The various sections of the building were topped with pointed turrets containing sloping Mansard roofs. On the east facade there were wide balconies that provided excellent views of Blockhouse Bay, Toronto’s harbour, and the city skyline. The year after it opened, a billiard room and bowling alley were added.

The hotel became the centre of social life on the Islands. Anglican church services were held in its parlour, summer residents picked up their mail there, and the first telephone installed on the Toronto Islands was in the hotel. Four lines of ferries transported overnight guests and day-visitors to the dock in front of the hotel. In 1882, Ned Hanlan leased the hotel to James Mackie, who managed the American Hotel on the mainland. Mackie enlarged the premises by adding a fourth floor and also constructed a summer opera house and carousel.

C. Pelham in his book, “Toronto Past and Present,” written in 1882, stated that at the Hotel Hanlan, “. . . the table d’hote [fixed-price menu] and restaurant are well known to the citizens of Toronto, and the enjoyment of a nice dinner in the cool of the evening, has come to be known as one of Toronto’s luxuries.“

Ned Hanlan died of pneumonia in 1908, the funeral service held in St. Andrew’s Church. He was buried in the Necropolis Cemetery on Winchester Street in Cabbagetown. Sadly, the magnificent hotel was destroyed by a fire that swept Hanlan’s Point on August 10, 1909.

Note: the author is grateful to the book, “Lost Toronto,” by William Dendy, Oxford University Press, 1978, for some of the material contained in this post.  

1903 Atlas of the City of Toronto and suburbs founded on registered plans and special surveys showing plan numbers, lots & buildings r-101[1]

Map of 1903 from the Toronto Archives. It reveals the location of the Hanlan Hotel overlooking Blockhouse Bay, and the amount of landfill employed to create land to build the amusement park at Hanlan’s Point.

boathouse, 1870-- pictures-r-3424[1]

 John Hanlan’s Boathouse, his hotel evident in the background, c. 1880. Toronto Public Library, r-3424 

Fonds 1244, Item 175

Hanlan’s Hotel c. 1890. Toronto Archives, Fonds 1244, Item 0175

btw, 1885 and 1895  f1478_it0013[1]

Hotel Hanlan between 1885 and 1895. The carousel is evident on the right-hand side of the hotel. Toronto Archives, Fonds 1478, Item 0013

Fonds 1244, Item 163

    Hanlan’s Hotel in 1907, Toronto Archives, Fonds 1244, Item 0163. 

Fonds 1244, Item 6029

Hotel Hanlan in 1907, Toronto Archives, Fonds 1233, Item 6029.

         Fonds 1244, Item 164

         Hanlan’s Hotel 1907, Toronto Archives, Fonds 1478, Item 0164.

Hanlan Hotel, a four storey frame building bought from Edward Hanlan by the Toronto Ferry Company, destroyed in the fire which swept Hanlan's Point on August 10, 1909 – January 1, 1908

The hotel in 1909, the year it was destroyed by fire. Toronto Archives, S1171, Item 1724

TRL, 1909,  pictures-r-3441[1]

         Hanlan’s Hotel in 1909, Toronto Public Library r- 3441

TRL, 1910--pcr-2146[1]

Postcard of the Hanlan’s Hotel, c. 1909, Toronto Public Library, pcr-2146

To view the Home Page for this blog:

A link to view previous posts about the movie houses of Toronto—historic and modern.

A link to view posts that explore Toronto’s Heritage Buildings:

The publication entitled, “Toronto’s Theatres and the Golden Age of the Silver Screen,” was written by the author of this blog. It explores 50 of Toronto’s old theatres and contains over 80 archival photographs of the facades, marquees and interiors of the theatres. It relates anecdotes and stories by the author and others who experienced these grand old movie houses.  


   To place an order for this book: .

Book also available in Chapter/Indigo, the Bell Lightbox Book Shop, and by phoning University of Toronto Press, Distribution: 416-667-7791 (ISBN 978.1.62619.450.2)

Another book, published by Dundurn Press, containing 80 of Toronto’s old movie theatres will be released in the spring of 2016. It is entitled, “Toronto’s Movie Theatres of Yesteryear—Brought Back to Thrill You Again.” It contains over 130 archival photographs.

A second publication, “Toronto Then and Now,” published by Pavilion Press (London, England) explores 75 of the city’s heritage sites. This book will also be released in the spring of 2016.





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Stories from old Toronto postcards


Old Toronto postcards sometimes reveal lovers’ quarrels and family squabbles, as well as mundane messages. It was necessary to be discreet, since the cards were seen by postal employees, including the local mailman. When viewing the material written on postcards of yesteryear, they appear similar to those sent in emails, or posted on Facebook and Twitter. Some of the messages are like the texts of today, though texts use more abbreviations.

I have been collecting old postcards of Toronto for many years; the postcard shown above is from my collection. It contains a view of Queen Street West, looking east from James Street, toward Yonge Street, about the year 1910. It was produced by Valentine and Sons’ Publishing Company, the most prolific marketer of postcards in the city during the first two decades of the 20th century. In the photo, on the left-hand side, to the east of the Adam’s Furniture Store, is the old Eaton’s Queen Street store, which was demolished to create the south section of the Eaton Centre of today. On the right-hand side of the photograph is the former Simpson’s Department store, which is now the Bay, at Queen and Yonge. The streetcar is a wooden car operated by the Toronto Street Railway Company, which provided city public transit until the TTC was created in 1921.


The Rosehill Reservoir Park is located southeast of the intersection of Yonge Street and St. Clair Avenue East (part of David Balfour Park). This card was mailed on July 27, 1906, to Mr. Norman Pascoe, who address was simply, “Lake Front at Kew Beach.” On the card the sender wrote: “ Dear Norman. We will meet you at Kippen Avenue at seven p.m. Wednesday next, if convenient. If not, please let us know. Yours truly, “Moonlight” 27/7/06.” Note: A hint of mystery is attached to this message, since the names of the senders are disguised. Why were they meeting?


This postcard was mailed on June 1, 1939 to Miss Darling of Stockwell London, England. View looks north on Bay Street from King Street. A woman named Marjorie sent it from West Toronto. She writes: “Having a wonderful time. Have met Ivy, Doris, Fred, Uncle Eddie, and Aunt Annie and other friends in Toronto. We are on the boat on Lake Ontario and going to Niagara. Weather very hot.” The card was signed, “Love from Marjorie.” Note: Shorten this message slightly and it could be a text.


On the reverse side of Marjory’s postcard, sent in 1939, are postage stamps depicting Princess Elizabeth and Princess Margaret. The cost of postage was 2 cents.


This view of Toronto harbour is on a postcard mailed on August 2, 1908. Written on the card is: “Had a fine ride on the Lake this morning. It is beautiful. Hope all are well and getting a long all right.” The card was signed, “Lillie.” In the picture, on the right-hand side of the skyline is the spire of St. James Cathedral on King Street East. On the reverse side of the card is a one-cent postage stamp commemorating the 300th anniversary of the founding of Quebec—1608-1908.


This card was mailed from Toronto on June 14, 1909, by a young woman named Sarah, who sent it to Mrs. C. Everingham at Parry Harbour Ontario. She wrote: “Dear Mother, am well, hope you are the same. Mother could you send me $1.00 right away so I could get it Saturday. Well I am so home sick to see yous all again. I can hardly write Mother. Send me the price to go if you want me but send me the dollar for I need it badly.” The card was signed, “From Sarah xxx.” Note: The wording of the message is rather confusing but Sarah’s needs are quite clear.

The view on the card depicts Centre Island, likely from the shoreline of Long Pond looking west as there is a wooden bridge in the background. This bridge was later replaced by one constructed of stone.


Sarah of Toronto sent this card on July 31, 1911. She wrote: “Dear cousin, We had a nice trip home, had dinner and tea at Mrs. Shepphard’s and then came down on the 7 o’clock boat. Found all well at home. Sister wants you to arrive, she wants to see you. Hope that Mr. Wossack is still getting on fine. Remember us to all with best. Kindness and Friendship.” The card was signed, “Yours, Sarah.” The view on the card looks westward across the picnic grounds at Hanlan’s point toward the lake.


This exceptionally fine view of Toronto Street looks north from near King Street East toward Adelaide Street East. The Toronto Seventh Post Office, with its columned portico is visible on the left-hand side (west side) of the street. It is one of the few buildings on the street that still exists today. The card was mailed by Nellie from Toronto on February 25, 1908 to Mrs. Fred Battle in Bowmanville, Ont.  It reads: “Dear Mildred, would you cut me a pattern of a skirt for me. Will pay you for it, 22 waist, medium 38 length, a plain full skirt print for the house. I like them pretty full and if you would pin the seams together as I don’t know any other patterns putting them together unless they are put together. I can make them then.” The card was signed, “Nellie.” Note: I hope that Mrs. Battle understood the card’s instructions better than I did.


This postcard shows the Amusement Park at the famous Sunnyside Beach, often referred to as “The poor man’s Riviera.” It was where each spring Toronto’s Easter Parade was held on the boardwalk, visible on the left-hand side of the photo. The view faces west, the waters of the lake to the south (left) of the boardwalk (not visible in the photo). The large structure in the photo with the red domed roof is the merry-go-round (carousel). When Sunnyside amusement park was demolished in the 1950s, the ride was shipped to Disneyland in California. In the foreground is Lakeshore Boulevard. The postcard was mailed on August 27, 1927, sent to “Master Elmer Morley, Sub. P.O. Ford City, Ontario.” The card reads: “ We arrived in Toronto all right and found Millers all well. We expect to go to exhibition on Monday.” The card is unsigned.


This card is likely from around the year 1920. There is no date or message on it as it was never sent to anyone. The view faces east toward the pedestrian bridge over Long Pond. The women seated on the bench in the foreground are formally attired, the usual custom until the late 1940s, when men wore shirts and ties when attending picnics, the CNE or an evening stroll.


This postcard depicts the ruins of a grist mill on the west bank of the Humber River. The card was mailed on July 12, 1907, prior to building the Old Mill Tea Garden and Restaurant, which was constructed beside the ruins in 1914. The card was sent to Miss Arrabel Ellis of Fenelon Falls. Ontario. It reads: “Dear Belle, I hear you are having quite a holiday this summer. You certainly had a nerve coming to Toronto and not the Junction. They wouldn’t give me your message.” It was signed, “Gerald.” Note: There seems to be some frustration and disappointment expressed on the part of Gerald. Lovers’ quarrel?


This card with the delightful scene of Toronto harbour was mailed from the city on October 3, 1906. It was sent to Daisy Alberta Shepp at 929 E. King Street, York, Pennsylvania. U.S. A. There was no message on the card and it was unsigned.


The view on this card faces south on Sherbourne Street. Sherbourne and Church Streets were among the first in the city to have electrically-powered streetcars. The card was mailed on June 7, 1905 to Miss A. B. Ellis, MacDonald Hall, Guelph, Ont. It reads: “Am sorry you will not be at my tea. We will miss you. Do not get lonesome.” It was signed, “May.”


The first buildings on the site shown above was in 1838, when Captain Dick, a wealthy steamboat captain, constructed four brick townhouses. In 1856, Mr. Sword bought the houses and converted them into a hotel. In 1859, Captain Dick reappeared on the scene, bought the hotel, and renamed it the Queen’s. It became the city’s most elite hostelry and dining establishment. The future King George V, when he was the Prince of Wales, stayed at the Queen’s, as did several American presidents. The closing of the Queen’s in 1927 was the end of an era and the beginning of a new. The Royal York Hotel was built on the site by Canadian Pacific Hotels, a division of the Canadian Pacific Railways. 

The postcard was mailed on May 25, 1907 to Johann Laemmersamn of 2 Front Street, Watertown N. Y. It reads: “I am pleased with the pretty cards you sent.” It was signed, “Mr. Young.”


This lithograph of Union Station on Front Street was mailed from Niagara Falls N. Y. on July 15, 1922. The station did not open until 1927, so the card was likely based on the architect’s sketches. The card was sent by Lottie to Miss Irma Chaplin of Jefferson, Ohio. It reads: “Toronto, Canada, July 14, 1922—Here today and there tomorrow. And it’s all wonderful. You ought to see it for yourself.” The card was signed, “Lottie” 


This card was mailed from Hamilton, Ontario, on October 3, 1908. It was sent to Miss M. Eubank of Willoro Grove, Ontario. It reads: “Received letter but it was a long time in coming. Send me a card when you are coming down so I can go down to see you. Bring me some apples and beech nuts. I wish I was there to gather some. Miss H. will be down Friday, down to see her Sunday afternoon and Miss G. for tea. To church twice. Am going to write to Aunt Mary tonight.”


This card depicts the Prince George Hotel on the northwest corner of King Street West and York Street. The card was mailed on February 4, 1913 to Mr. Floyd Gage, at 63 Penn Avenue, Binghamton N. Y. It reads: “Friend Floyd: I have been here a long time working with the Bowles Ltd., a large lunch concern and I am now receiving good pay. Am well and hope you are the same.” It is signed, “Your old friend, Samuel B. Wishart, 98 Mutual Street.” Perhaps the “Bowles Ltd.” that Samuel refers to was Bowles Lunch (restaurant) on the southeast corner of Bay and Queen Street West, across from today’s Old City Hall. 



This card depicts the boardwalk along the south shore of Centre Island that leads to Ward’s Island. The card was never mailed, but written in pencil on the back is: “November 30, 1908—to William from Grandpa.” Little William likely was handed the card as there are child’s scribbles in pencil all over the back of the card.  


This card was mailed from Portsmouth, England on November 13, 1915. It was sent to Miss Coles of 14 Craubury Avenue, Southhampton. It reads: “Saturday—M. D. A. We are leaving Portsmouth by the 8:55 train Sun. and look forward to seeing you all.” It is signed, “With love, Nellie.” It is assumed that Nellie or someone she knew had visited Toronto and purchased the card. The street in the upper right-hand corner is identified as “Pembroke Street. In the bottom right-hand corner is Wilton Street. The other streets are not named.


This intriguing postcard was mailed on September 9, 1918 by Royal Air Force Cadet #171953 #4 Div. Toronto. It was sent to Mrs. Georgette R. Prince, Suite 25, Arlington Block, Edmonton, Alberta. The message on the card was written in French. I wish I were able to translate it as war-time messages are particularly important in preserving the memories of difficult times in Canada’s history.

The churches depicted on the card are: clockwise from the left-hand corner, St. James Cathedral on King Street east, Holy Blossom Synagogue on Bathurst Street, Metropolitan United on Queen Street East, St. Michael’s on Bond Street, Jarvis Street Baptist, Knox Presbyterian on Spadina, and the Bond Street Congregational Church at Bond and Dundas Street East (now demolished).  


The card was mailed from Orillia, Ontario on November 10, 1955. It was sent to Miss Margaret Henry, 30 Annendale, Apt. 3, Kingston, Ontario. The picture is of Sick Children’s Hospital on University Avenue. The card reads: “ Dear Margaret, I have just returned home from Toronto. The David Scott’s address is 9809 19th Avenue North East, Seattle, Washington U. S. A. If Stanley would care to call on them? And do you still want Grey Squirrel for your coat?” The card is signed, “From E. Buchauau.” Note: A grey squirrel coat?

The cards that follow were never mailed so they have no messages or postage stamps on them to determine when they were purchased.


Toronto’s Old City Hall, after the gargoyles had been removed from the tower as they were in danger of falling into the street below.


          Children’s Playground on the west side of the Sunnyside Bathing Pavilion


Yonge Street in 1915, gazing north toward the College and Carlton Street intersection. The building on the left-hand side, with the rounded flat-topped towers, is the Odd Fellows Hall, built between 1891 and 1892. The streetcar in the distance that is making a right-hand turn from College Street, to proceed south on Yonge, is negotiating a jog in the roadway. This jog was eliminated when Eaton’s College Street was built in 1929, and Yonge Street was straightened. The clock tower of the old St. Charles Tavern is visible in the distance, on the west side of Yonge. The streetcar is a wooden car operated by the Toronto Railway Company. The TTC took over the system in 1921. The buildings on the west side of Yonge street, south of College, were demolished to erect the Eaton’s College Street Store. 


When the Royal York opened on June 11, 1929, it was the tallest building in the city. The hotel’s architects were Ross and Macdonald, with the firm of Sproat and Rolph. They chose the “Chateau Style, reflecting the latest Art Deco trends of the 1920s. The Royal York possesses a copper roof and touches of the Romanesque in the many arched windows in its podium. The 28-storey building originally had 1048 rooms.


The Royal Ontario Museum when its main entrance was on Queen’s Park. The Park Plaza Hotel is in the background, to the north of the museum.


Construction on the Eaton’s College Street store commenced in 1928 and it opened on October 30, 1930. The magnificent structure, the jewel in the crown of the retail empire of the T. Eaton Company, was designed in the Stripped Classical design that reflected Italian Art Deco styles of the period. The building’s architects were the firm of Ross and Macdonald, in association with Sproatt and Rolph. The store was intended to appeal to affluent customers. Unfortunately, by the time the Eaton’s College store opened, the Great Depression had descended across the nation.


Church street, where electric streetcar first appeared in 1891.  The view is looking south.


This view of the Humber Valley was taken after 1914, as in this year a stone bridge was built over the river to replace the former wooden structure destroyed by an ice storm. The Old Mill Tea Garden (the Old Mill Restaurant of today) opened in 1914, prior to the stone bridge being constructed. It is in the photo, but is barely visible as it was a small structure compared to the vast complex of today’s Old Mill Restaurant. 


In this view, the Royal York Hotel and the Bank of Commerce dominate the skyline. On the far left-hand side is the Terminal Building, now the Queen’s Quay Terminal. The cannon in the foreground remains at Centre Island but is now located near the ferry terminal.


This photo of the Ford Hotel may create memories for a few people. This hostelry was once among the finest in the city. Some may also remember the Murray Restaurants that were in several locations throughout the city. The Ford Hotel was located at Bay and Dundas Streets, across from the bus terminal. Unfortunately it eventually became rather shabby. It was finally closed and demolished.

A link to a previous post that explores the history of postcards in Canada:

To view the Home Page for this blog:

A link to view previous posts about the movie houses of Toronto—historic and modern.

A link to view posts that explore Toronto’s Heritage Buildings:

Recent publication entitled, “Toronto’s Theatres and the Golden Age of the Silver Screen,” by the author of this blog. The publication explores 50 of Toronto’s old theatres and contains over 80 archival photographs of the facades, marquees and interiors of the theatres. It relates anecdotes and stories by the author and others who experienced these grand old movie houses.  


   To place an order for this book: .

Book also available in Chapter/Indigo, the Bell Lightbox Book Shop, and by phoning University of Toronto Press, Distribution: 416-667-7791 (ISBN 978.1.62619.450.2)

Another book, published by Dundurn Press, containing 80 of Toronto’s old movie theatres will be released in the spring of 2016. It is entitled, “Toronto’s Movie Theatres of Yesteryear—Brought Back to Thrill You Again.” It contains over 130 archival photographs.

A second publication, “Toronto Then and Now,” published by Pavilion Press (London, England) explores 75 of the city’s heritage sites. This book will also be released in the spring of 2016. 










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