Links to attractions in Toronto


National Yacht Club

Toronto Harbour

By Robert B. Townsend

The harbour that enabled a new continent to feed and cherish an old one, a step toward world economy.

There are few inland harbours in the world that surpass Toronto Harbour for beauty, history or possibilities.

The Seneca Indians of centuries ago used the harbour to their advantage.

The sunrise of sail, the first harnessing of the lake winds for commerce to what is now Toronto harbour was the arrival of Sieur La Motte de La Lussi`ere on the 27th of November 1678. This was the first recorded piece of commercial; navigation of freshwater oceans under canvas. The trade was for "Picon de ble" ears of corn.The first real commercial shipment into the harbour was in 1749 when a cargo of goods for trade was consigned to the Keeper of Fort  Rouille, the French trading post. Even though the post was destroyed in 1759,‑ Jean Baptiste Rousseau, a courier de Boise secured from the new British Government of New France permission to continue trading with the Indians. he was known as St. Jean, or St. John, and his home at the mouth of the Humber river was a supply point to the founders of York. Under the first British Governor of Canada, Lord Dorchester, and old friend and fellow officer of General James Wolfe, and General Wolfe's second in command, Col. Townsend, a surveyor was sent to report on all the harbours and fort sites in Upper Canada. They reported favourably on the "Port of Toronto." Prior to that time Toronto was a name applied to the country around Lake Simcoe, (The Toronto Carrying Place between the Humber river Lake Simcoe and Georgian Bay). To the Indians who lived and traded in the area, Toronto meant "a meeting place". The site of Toronto came into being through a treaty known as the Toronto Purchase entered into by local Indians and Sir John Johnson. The Indians ceded ten square miles at Toronto Bay, a strip of land to Lake Simcoe, portages and so on, down to Lake Huron. This enabled a lake port and a travel area for the fur traders from Lower Canada going into the North west. For over sixty years after the founding of York in 1792 water transportation was almost the sole means of trade into and out of the town. The harbour continued to remain a dominant factor in trade in and out of the area even after the introduction of the railway about the year 1856, through until well into the twentieth century, and with the St. Lawrence Seaway travel, to the present time.When York became the City of Toronto in 1934 large sums (for those days) were spent on improving the harbour. Queen's wharf, at the foot of Bathurst street, south of Fort York, jutted out into the bay for a distance of 740 feet. On the Quay for many years was an oil lamp which acted as a beacon lamp. This was replaced, eventually by a locomotive red lantern. It served Toronto harbour from 1855 to 1911.In 1861 a new lighthouse was built near the westerly end of the pier, and the old red lantern was removed to it. In 1885, changes in the channel made it necessary to move the lighthouse once again, to the site it now occupies. The major changes to Toronto harbour, which occurred after the harbour and it' adjoining lands came under control the Toronto harbour Commissioners, and the Toronto shore was moved 1,000 feet to the south, left the lighthouse high and dry, surrounded by roads and streetcar tracks, still south of the old Fort York. From the earliest days of Toronto, provision was made to set aside some of the lakefront as an esplanade. An effort by a young and enterprising community to avoid it's precious heritage from passing into the hand of big business, and save it for the pleasure and recreation of it's citizens.There were "yachts" on Lake Ontario in the eighteenth century. These were government vessels, used for carrying dispatches and passengers. The Toronto Yacht, built at the mouth of the Humber in 1792 is an example. The Toronto Yacht carried mail and passengers between Niagara and York for many years before being wrecked off Gibraltar Point in 1812. Another "Yacht" was the Bullfrog . An advertisement in 1834 described her as "60 tons, completely rigged and well furnished in every respect" Earlier references, 1828, indicated she had been used as the vessel for the voyages of the Governor of Upper Canada, as was the Toronto Yacht. Up until this point in time, the yachts were operated by the Provincial Marine, the British Navy, under the supervision of the local government.Yachting as a private sport was flourishing in Toronto as early as 1832. An advertisement in the York Sapper and Miner, October 18th, 1832 offered for sale "the fast sailing cutter Dart, 12 1/2 tons burthen, with or without rigging, sails and other furniture." She belonged to Captain, the Hon. John Elmsley, R.N., of York (now Toronto). The earliest authentic picture of lake yachting is a valuable engraving in Gleason's Pictorial, attributed to Mr. William Armstrong, a Toronto artist and ardent yachtsman. It shows the "fleet of the Toronto Boat Club coming into harbour" in 1853, and it is probably quite accurate. The yachts shown are two cutters, a schooner, a sloop with Bermuda rig, like our modern Marconi, and a lugger. The Royal Canadian Yacht Club was founded in 1852, as the Toronto Boat Club. It is the oldest and largest freshwater yacht club. The reclaimed area in the approximately four miles from the Humber river to the Western Gap, some three hundred and thirty acres of land, of which one hundred and fifteen acres were set aside as parkland, gave birth to several boating clubs. The Parkdale Canoe Club, the Don Rowing Club, the Argonaut Rowing club, the Alexandria Yacht Club and the National Yacht and Skiff Club. One of the original homes of the Royal Canadian yacht Club was the wreck of the steamer Provincial, which lay at the foot of Simcoe street, and which the club occupied from 1860 to 1869.Over the past fifty years there have been further changes to the harbour. Always there has been talk of saving the harbour for the pleasure and recreation of it's citizens. Today there is more talk of renovations . It is hoped that recreational sailors remain vigilant and active in the planning and implementation of changes to this the most beautiful and historic freshwater port in the world.       

Other Links related to Toronto to check out: