Toronto Islands in the Early 1900s: Postcards, Pictures and a Poet's Diary

August 16, 2021 | Fiona

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In the summer of 1900, a young poet named Marjorie Pickthall and her family rented a cottage on the Toronto Islands. During her stay at Golden Gate Cottage on Hanlan's Point, she kept a diary. Pickthall recorded her daily activities and fascination with the surrounding natural world. 

Inspired by passages from the diary, I've paired them with postcards and a few pictures of the Toronto Islands from that time — all held by Toronto Public Library, with some available on our Digital Archive. These items are housed in our Canadian Documentary Art Collection, part of our Baldwin Collection of Canadiana.

Diary excerpts are posted with permission of Queen’s University Archives, which holds the diaries (Folder: 2001.1, Box 61, File 2). 

Paper with illustration of woman and title Diary for 1900 in handwriting
Front page of Pickthall’s 1900 diary. Held at Queen's University Archives.
Vintage postcard divided into five panels showing different parts of a coastal location
Hanlan’s Point, Toronto Island. Postcard, approximately early 1905–1915. Accession number: PC 775.

 

The poet and the island in 1900

At 16 years old, Marjorie Pickthall (18831922) was already a published author. Her poems and short stories appeared regularly in Toronto newspapers. She went on to be lauded as one of Canada’s finest poets of her time and was mourned across Canada when she died in 1922 at the age of 38. She had also worked as a librarian.

In 1900, the Toronto Islands were a bustling year-round community with resort hotels, shops, cottages, a large amusement park, a baseball stadium and public bathing houses. The population of the island in the summer of 1900 was about 3,000 (source: More than an Island: A History of Toronto Island).

Portrait of Marjorie Pickthall with signature below
Photo of Marjorie L. C. Pickthall from her book The Wood Carver’s Wife.
Map of Hanlan's Point showing individual buildings, surrounding bays and a stadium at the tip of the point
Portion of map of Hanlan’s Point from Goad Atlas of the City of Toronto 1910 (page 48).
 

Diary excerpts paired with postcards, pictures & more

July 28, 1900

"We moved to the Golden Gate today! The van came for our furniture [...] we did not, however, get over until the 3:30 boat; we had the string bag, a basket, the Gladstone bag, and Smudge [her dog] who was really very good, though frightened at the thump of the ferry boat’s engines. It was a beautiful day, fortunately" – Marjorie Pickthall's diary

 

July 30, 1900

"I took Smudge for a little walk by the lagoon. He was just wild with excitement tearing through the grass, splashing in the water and chasing everything he could see. I also took him up to the beach. It is really lovely. The sand is a mass of little poplar bushes and evening primroses." Marjorie Pickthall's diary

Vintage postcard showing people on path in park and words reading Promenade to the Lagoon Hanlans Point Toronto Canada
Promenade to the Lagoon on Hanlan's Point. Postcard, approximately 1910. Accession number: PC 3417.

 

July 31, 1900

"Talking of bathers, one very fat lady from a house near us bathes in a flannelette night-gown. The effect is better imagined than described. I should think that if that is a sample of bathing dresses, it is useless waste of time to put anything on at all." Marjorie Pickthall's diary

 

August 3, 1900

"We have some beautiful bits of scenery around Golden Gate. One is especially pretty; you look right across a very blue lagoon to the trees of the Park. A dark red canoe slipped along the lagoon this evening and it looked perfectly lovely, for it was reflected perfectly in the water." Marjorie Pickthall's diary

Postcard of children and others in park with words in corner of postcard reading Picnic Grounds Island Park Toronto
Picnic Grounds on Island Park. Postcard, approximately 1901. Accession number: PC 3593.

 

August 4, 1900

"It was very hot, but I took my Smudge out for a beach walk as usual [...] We always go out for a stroll along the shore in the evening." Marjorie Pickthall's diary

Vintage postcard showing board walk and small boats with the words The Board Walk Hanlon's Point Toronto Canada
The Board Walk at Hanlan's Point. Postcard, approximately 1901. Accession number. PC 786.

 

August 21, 1900

"Sat on the beach all afternoon." Marjorie Pickthall's diary, August 21, 1900 

Vintage postcard of children playing on beach with house in background and words reading Happy Days Centre Island Toronto
Children playing on the beach on Centre Island. Postcard, approximately 1902. Accession number: PC 3453.

 

August 2, 1900

"It is so glorious in the evening. One bit of colour I shall never forget; a silvery little moon in a pale, blue sky.It’s very pretty seeing the lights of the city coming out. The big 'double-ender' ferry boats are almost outlined with lights and look so theatrical moving slowly along." Marjorie Pickthall's diary

 

July 31, 1900

"[...] we are very fortunate in being just near the quietest part of the lakeshore. From opposite here and round the Hospital Point to St. Andrew’s Avenue is always nearly deserted [...] No house for bathers to come from as it is all Government property." – Marjorie Pickthall's diary

Vintage postcard with a road and a house behind trees and the words St. Andrews Ave Center Isl
St. Andrew's Avenue, Centre Island. Postcard, approximately 1909. Accession number: PC 3436.

 

August 6, 1900

"It was a public holiday and terribly hot, so we kept very much indoors; there were swarms of people about and we could hear shrieks and yells and howls from the Point." Marjorie Pickthall's diary

Vintage postcard of large crowd by water where a boat is near and words reading A Scene at Hanlans Point Toronto Canada
A Scene at Hanlan's Point. Postcard, approximately 1901. Accession number: PC 782.

 

August 10, 1900

"I had a lovely time today. Nora and Queenie came over to spend the day – at least most of it. [...] we went for a little walk and then dawdled about, then had tea on the verandah. The girls wanted to catch the 6:30 boat and of course I saw them on their way." Marjorie Pickthall's diary

Vintage photo of three women sitting outside a cottage
Belle Villa, a cottage on the Island. Photograph, 1900. Perhaps this cottage was much like Golden Gate where Pickthall stayed.

 

August 11, 1900

"I sent another little piece of poetry and it was in today’s Mail and Empire. It does look nice to see one’s words in print." Marjorie Pickthall's diary

Black and white reproduction of poem in newspaper
Clipping of Pickthall's poem "Eventide" from the Daily Mail & Empire, August 11, 1900.

Transcription of above newspaper clipping of poem [.txt]

 

August 18, 1900

"The lights of the city look so pretty from here – like a lot of little lights slung on strings. The big ferry boats are quite illuminated with electricity, and moving very slowly backwards and forwards look quite theatrical and pretty." Marjorie Pickthall's diary

Postcard of string lights on coast and words reading Hanlans Point Toronto
Hanlan's Point at night. Postcard, approximately 1907. Accession number: PC 3027.

 

August 31, 1900

"Nina’s brother brought over her suitcase. Mrs. Gale is at Centre Island so we rowed down there to see her. Rowed back in half an hour." Marjorie Pickthall's diary

Vintage postcard of children and others by the water and a canoe approach and the words Lagoon at Island Park Toronto
Lagoon at Island Park, Toronto. Postcard, approximately early 1907–1915. Accession number: PC 758.

 

September 2, 1900

"Started off for church but too hot and turned back." Marjorie Pickthall's diary

 

September 4, 1900

"The Davies boy did not come for orders until late so Nina and I rowed over to Clarks at Centre Island to get the meat for dinner." Marjorie Pickthall's diary

 

September 7, 1900

"Up to the Lighthouse today to inquire about some toy boats. Went rowing to get white water lilies." Marjorie Pickthall's diary

 

September 12, 1900

"Last night was the worst storm known in Toronto for about 30 years. It was in fact, the tail end of the terrible Galveston hurricane; the wind reached 40 miles an hour here. [...] Quite a lot of damage was done among the shipping. A canoe was blown from the Hospital over several fences into a lagoon near here, a distance of about 400 or 500 yard. Several other skiffs and canoes were dashed against the house fences and smashed." Marjorie Pickthall's diary

Newspaper clipping describing powerful storm
Clipping of a portion of an article detailing a big storm, from the Toronto Daily Star, Sept. 12, 1900.

 

September 15, 1900

"Rowed under the Bridge and down the little new cut." Marjorie Pickthall's diary

Vintage postcard showing rowers and canoes approaching bridge and words Bridge at Island Park Toronto
Bridge at Island Park. Postcard, approximately early 1900s. Accession number: PC 767.

 

September 25, 1900

"It was quite a summery day, hot and still and sunny [...] The whole family went out in the afternoon and collected some nice pieces of wood from the Pumping Station."Marjorie Pickthall's diary

 

September 27, 1900

"I walked about five miles today… in the evening Smudgie and I ran races to the Hospital and back." Marjorie Pickthall's diary

Illustration of large building with wording Lakeside Home for Children Island Toronto
Lakeside Home for Children. Postcard, approximately 1908. Accession number: PC 3274. In 1883 The Hospital for Sick Children built a convalescent home for children on Hanlan’s Point named the Lakeside Home for Little Children. John Ross Robertson, founder and publisher of the Telegram, donated the funds to construct the building. Sick children were brought from the city to enjoy the fresh air and quiet of the island. In 1891 it was expanded into this grand three story cottage with turrets and verandah.

 

September 28, 1900

"This is our last day at the dear Island and we are blue accordingly. We had to do a little packing and then in the afternoon Mother and I went for a sort of farewell walk. It was quite a melancholy ceremony, for the lake looked simply lovely and it was so warm and sunny." Marjorie Pickthall's diary

Illustrated postcard of ferry with smoke coming out and people crowded nearby and words reading Boat landing at Hanlan's Point Toronto
Boat landing at Hanlan’s Point, Toronto. Postcard, approximately 1913. Accession number: PC 3415.

 

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