Saturday Night Igloo Feb., East of Yonge St., Toronto / Old brewery area… St. Paul Street…
I started thinking about leaving Toronto one evening with my ex-, minus 30 degrees, asthma kicking in and I stopped breathing. There’s a rhyme there, somehow, breathing and leaving… now, 23 years later, on OK terms with my ex-, she just relayed these igloo .jpgs so I can see what life is like for her and her mate in good old Toronto. Igloo images arrive and I don’t want to say how I’m about to leave for the University to go swimming in that outdoor Olympic size pool, sun shining… I’m 74 years old and every day I say a prayer thanking God I’m living where I’m living. And again I say the prayer. It’s a simple prayer. It goes like this: Thank God!
But Toronto was OK. My then-wife and I and our children lived on the Toronto Islands, a Lake Ontario archipelago made up of 15 separate islands, including Ward’s Island, Algonquin Island, Centre Island, Muggs (the bird sanctuary), Snug (the Royal Canadian Yacht Club), and Donut, where, in the early 80s we used to skate lugging bottles of wine… and rum… and beer…
The place was sometimes called ‘the Coney Island of Canada…’ ‘Canada’s Lido,’ or so said Charles Dudley Warner, 19th Century American humorist. Other people from the States lived there, writers, painters, book and magazine editors, CBC broadcasters, teachers… eccentrics, including some who never left the Islands, though it was only 15 minutes by ferry to downtown Toronto. Many of us commuted–via ferry–to and from The City. “Sounds romantic,” says a friend, listening as I read aloud.
We lived there for five years (1979-1985), didn’t own a car (none allowed), rode bicycles, walked and took the ferry… subways and streetcars in The City. Total population: 750 people, when we were there. A Peaceable Kingdom. Well, with the usual thing that comes with a close-knit, small townish gossipy community. But it was a community. That got me.
My book, The Toronto Islands, an Illustrated History, (ISBN 0-919567-22-3) was published by Dreadnaught in 1983. Lots of media stuff, lots of coverage… book became a bestseller. Lots of great photographs. Well, good luck finding a copy! Now out of print…
Researching The Toronto Islands, I discovered that America actually invaded Upper Canada and “impregnable” Gibraltar Point (fortified around 1793 to withstand a siege from the Americans) was one of the casualties of the War of 1812… in 1813, sixteen American ships entered Toronto Harbour and “behaved in a manner no self-respecting Canadian mentions in public.” So I learned… “my country” had invaded Canada! Had attacked the very Island where we lived.
It was in retaliation for the American burning of York–and, yes, destruction of the blockhouse on Gibraltar Point (part of the Toronto Islands) that the British fleet sailed up the Potomac and burned the American capital. To cover up the damage wrought by smoke and fire, the Americans simply whitewashed the President’s residence, from which it derives its present name, the White House.
So, the White House is white because of American military action on Toronto Island during the War of 1812.
There’s a drawing by Owen Staples circa 1914 that shows the arrival of the American fleet prior to the capture of York. It’s reproduced in The Toronto Islands. “Call your publisher,” says G., thumbing through the pages, “get ’em to republish the book!”
Where was I? Oh, that igloo in the city, just walking distance from Yonge Street. Yeah. Seems like another lifetime. And the Island was really cold!