The Toronto Islands were not always islands but actually a series of continuously moving sand-bars originating from Scarborough Bluffs and carried westward by Lake Ontario currents. Eroded stone of the Scarborough Bluffs was carried westward by Lake Ontario currents to create the islands. By the early 1800's the longest of these bars extended nearly 9 kilometres south-west from Woodbine Avenue, through Ashbridge's Bay and the marshes of the lower Don River, forming a natural harbour between the lake and the mainland.
The sand bars were first surveyed in 1792 by the British Navy, but they were well known by native people, who considered them a place of leisure and relaxation. The main peninsula became known to European settlers as the “Island of Hiawatha”. A carriage path from York which led to Gibraltar Point was very popular during the 1800’s. It later became known as Lake Shore Avenue. Part of the boardwalk on Centre Island traces this same route. A number of severe storms and their strong wave action worked to erode the peninsula, requiring frequent repair to small gaps until finally, in 1858, an island was created when a storm completely separated the peninsula from the mainland and the gap was not repaired.
Ward’s Island and Island Park developed as resort communities. By the 1800’s, many of Toronto’s wealthiest families built beautiful Victorian summer homes along Lake Shore Avenue, east from Manitou Road to Ward’s Island.
The west side of the island, Hanlan’s Point was commonly known as West Point. It rapidly became a resort destination: the first summer cottage community was found here. Hotels, an amusement park and a baseball stadium for 10,000 spectators were built in the 1890s-1910. Babe Ruth hit his first professional home run here.
High lake levels continually damaged island properties and, on January 1, 1956, the City of Toronto transferred responsibility for the Toronto Islands to the Municipality of Metropolitan Toronto to be developed as a regional park.