Not far from the hustle and bustle of downtown Toronto lies a small community nestled in one of the city’s nicest parks.
Formed in 1858 by a storm which eroded the eastern end of the peninsula, the Islands soon became a place for amusement, recreation and eventually, living1.
Tents of Toronto Island, 1929. Source: Blogto
Initially used as summer getaways, these spaces evolved from leased tent plots, to tents with permanent kitchens, to the full cottages we see today. After WWII, housing pressures led to the winterization of these cottages1. Now, people live on the Islands throughout the year in homes which have access to public services (city hydro, gas and water). From their history as owner-built dwellings, each home has a distinct appearance. Oftentimes, one can read the building’s history by observing the various layers of additions or renovations.
Island home from Wikipedia
Growing up on the Island, I was exposed to a childhood of adventure, nature and a tight-knit community. Many of the residents of this community would be described as unique, and their homes are a direct reflection of their character. When asked to envision the typical Toronto Island home, many may describe quaint cottages, each with their own eccentric aesthetic. While these homes are undoubtedly a staple of Island living, the houseboats which line the lagoon are another housing alternative. Toronto Island’s houseboats are well suited for those who want to live directly on the water in a small community. Their relatively small design also offers the opportunity to partake in the small house movement and limit energy consumption.
With limited housing on the Islands, several people have opted for houseboat living. The Sunfish Cut Boat Club is responsible for regulating “the docks and mooring in the lagoon”2. Houseboat owners pay a fee according a wet mooring rate multiplied by the width of their dock and length and width of their boat 2. However, much like the Toronto Islands Residential Community Trust Corporation, the Sunfish Cut Boat Club has a waitlist.
While living on these boats may not be attainable for most of us, they remain an indispensable component of the Island’s landscape. Each settled in a landscape of water and trees, these homes challenge the nature-culture dualism which sometimes is associated with city living.
Are you interested in seeing more? Visit the Islands and stroll through the community by taking a ferry to Wards Island.
Here’s the ferry schedule. Note that the schedule changes seasonally and fare is $7.00 per person for a round trip.
If you’re feeling particularly adventurous, rent a boat from The Boat House near Centre Island to get an in-water perspective of these exceptional homes.
And if you're visiting in the winter, be sure to drop into the Rectory Café for a hot chocolate or Irish coffee to warm yourself up!
Researched and written by Larisa Nagelberg, graduate of Environmental and Human Geography from The University of Toronto
1. Toronto Neighbourhood Guide. History of Toronto Islands. Retrieved from http://www.torontoneighbourhoods.net/neighbourhoods/downtown/toronto-islands/history
2. Toronto Island Community. Sunfish Cut Boat Club. Retrieved from http://torontoisland.org/Home/Marine-Boating/Sunfish-Cut-Boat-Club