My mum and dad, Barbara and Leslie Fletcher, married just after the second world war broke out. Soon after my dad, a sergeant in the Royal Artillery, went to Ceylon, where he spent the rest of the war.
As dad had spent three years in Canada, having migrated with his sister in 1929, he had the chance to be repatriated there after the war finished. So, in 1946, he took mum over to Canada. The original plan was to help Bill Suter, his sister's first husband, on his farm near Bluevale in northern Ontario. After a visit to the farm, dad realised it was not the place to take his wife. Little House on the Prairie comes to mind: he called it 'hen shit acres'.
At the time they were staying with dad's sister Aline and her husband George, who had a house on Hanlans Island in Toronto. The Toronto Islands, originally known as 'Island of Hiawatha' – Menecing in the Ojibway language – were originally attached to the mainland by a sandy spit, but after a bad storm which washed away some of the land, it became a group of islands.
Originally the islands were used to dry fishing nets. A lighthouse was built to guide boats into Toronto harbour. The Toronto Council deemed the islands to be for the pleasure of the people of Toronto. So the islands became a pleasure park; bridges
were built to join the islands and a ferry runs from the mainland. There are no cars on the islands except for the police and fire service, plus a school bus.
Some land was leased for housing after the war. Small plots of building land were given to veterans and my parents managed to get one of these plots: 9 Ojibway on Algonquin Island; that was the start. Dad drew up plans for a two-bedroom wooden-clad bungalow. The plans weren't passed, as the house had to be in the centre of the plot: so a porch was added. Still the plans weren't passed. Mum was
advised to get an architect to draw the plans. She got some architects' paper; dad re-drew the plans and they were passed! Which was just as well as the footings had already been laid.
Everything had to be brought to the island on the ferry and taken to the plot by a hand-pulled cart. Most of the wood was green, as seasoned had been used for the war effort. They got a large bag of bent nails from a dismantled exhibition; mum spent many hours straightening nails. Dad had never built anything, so it was a big learning curve. He had help with electricity and plumbing. That was the only help other than the shared help from others building their homes. All the houses had to be on stilts as the island can flood: ours was built on 3ft brick pylons. As building during the snowy winter wasn't possible and dad worked on the mainland, building the house took time and was only finished just before I was born in 1948.
We lived at 9 Ojibway for nearly six years. It was a great place to live; lots of community spirit. As everyone was building their own home, they built a public hall for everyone's use. As I have already said, there was no traffic and everything brought to the island came over from the mainland by ferry. There is a school that I went to. The milkman came at 5.00 am, so as not to disturb the peace. There was only a 50-year lease on the properties and dad's sister's house was pulled down to extend the airport. When the leases were about to run out on the houses on Algonquin and Wards and after a lot of to-ing and fro-ing, it was decided to extend the leases to 99 years.
In 2004 my sister and I had a trip to Toronto and had lunch with the couple who lived in the house then. (See top of article) The frame was still the original and the layout more or less the same, but the cladding on the outside had been changed. My mum and dad, now passed away, would be pleased to be part of the history of the Toronto Islands.