What Would You Say to Your 17-Year-Old-Self?
What would you say to your 17-year-old self?
Do you remember the summer when you were 17?
Do you remember where you were? Your friends? What you were doing?
Last week, I took a 15-minute ferry ride and spent the day with my 17-year-old self
I went to the Toronto Islands, just a short ferry ride from downtown Toronto.
I was 17 when I took that ferry for the first time ….. and I think it is the same ferry. Some things don’t change.
Memory is a funny thing …. I might forget why I am in the grocery store, but when I stepped onto that ferry, I entered a wormhole to the summer when I was 17.
It was a golden summer, when I was 17
I had survived my first year of university, I had a great summer job and I had my first boyfriend. Life was sweet!
When the summer job wrapped up, my friend, Denise, and I decided to have an end-of-summer adventure in Toronto. This was the first big trip that I planned myself. All my siblings were in Toronto that summer. Denise and I had lots of places to stay and family to show us around. What a great way to end a golden summer!
Life does not stay golden for very long when you are 17. Just before the big trip, I got dumped. It was one of those need-a-fresh-start-in-September dumps. No matter, I wasn’t going to let that experience define my big trip. As one of my friends said later, all teen romances end in heartache.
It was my first flight. I have flown countless times since, but I remember everything about that first time on an airplane. We flew from Halifax to Montreal, stayed for a few days and then hitchhiked to Toronto. Our destination was the Toronto Islands, where my sister lived.
My sister was 23 that summer and had lived in Toronto for 3 years. I was 14 when she left home so we didn’t really know each other very well. My oldest brother was 25 that summer and I didn’t know him at all. I was 11 when he left home and moved to Toronto. My other brother was in Toronto for the summer before heading back to university.
It was the summer of 1971 when I was 17
The babyboomers were coming of age. The music was different; the clothes were different; and Toronto was the place to be.
My sister shared a house on Ward’s Island, at the eastern end of the Toronto Islands, with her new Toronto friends. They all looked so glamorous to me. They were all hippies in that house; and they lived that life so well.
My sister looked like the best of Peggy Lipton from the Mod Sqad; the best of Joni Mitchell; a blond Carly Simon. We do not look alike at all.
This is not a picture of the house where my sister lived. That house burnt down. This is just a sweet little cottage that is typical of all the cottages on the Island.
My sister and her housemates threw a big party when we arrived. This was the first time that all four siblings were together on our own, away from home. We were getting together, not as kids who grew up in the same house, but as newly-minted adults. Would they like me? Would they want to be friends with me?
When we all met at that party when I was 17, we started to forge a new relationship. Lucky for us, we liked each other; we valued each other; and we wanted to be friends. We still like each other; we value each other; and we are still friends.
When the four of us get together, we have a great time that started with that special bond that was forged long ago.
Do we have any photos from that momentous party on Ward’s Island? No. The only way to revisit that golden summer is in my memory as I walk down the same paths that I walked when I was 17.
To me, Toronto Islands is more than a place; it is a place in time.
Take a walk with me on the Toronto Islands
The Islands were a special place in 1971 and they still are today
Time stands still when you are on the Toronto Islands. There are no cars, no hotels, no stores.
The island community is the largest urban car-free community in North America, Everyone gets around on bicycles.
I took this picture last week but it looks just like 1971. Even the milk-carton-carriers on the bikes look vintage.
The Toronto Islands have been owned by the City of Toronto since Confederation in 1867.
Today, there are about 300 houses at the eastern end of the Islands. It was a long fight to save the houses.
The Island community began as a tent community in the 1880’s. Over time, the tents were replaced with cottages on land leased from the City of Toronto. At its peak, there were 630 cottages on the Islands. Most of the cottages are the kind that I remember growing up: a few sheets of plywood nailed together and resting on cinder blocks.
Would you build a cottage on land that you didn’t own?
In 1953, Toronto Council voted to expropriate the cottages as leases came due. The City developed a master plan to bulldoze the community and build a park.
When I went to the Islands in 1971, only 250 cottages had escaped the bulldozer. The Island community mounted a legal challenge to save the remaining cottages. In 1980, there was a tense standoff when the whole community gathered at the ferry terminal to greet the sheriff when he arrived to serve eviction notices on the remaining residents. It took another 13 years for Islanders to win the right to purchase 99-year leases.
Since 1993, property prices in Toronto have skyrocketed. One thing I would tell my 17-year-old-self is to buy property in Toronto.
The deal reached between the City and the Islanders prevents any profiting on resale. There is a formula for the resale price that is based strictly on building costs. Furthermore, there is a requirement that the cottage be a principal residence:
anyone who holds title to an Island home must use that house as his/her principal residence and declare it as such for Income Tax purposes.
Under Canadian tax laws, any gain on the sale of a principal residence is tax free. However, a person or a couple can have only one principal residence at a time. Profits on the sale of a second residence are subject to capital gains tax.
If an Islander were to own a property on mainland Toronto, that house could not be considered to be a principal residence and any profits on resale would be subject to capital gains tax.
With a no-profit formula for calculating the sale price, together with the principal residence requirement, Island homeowners have been left behind in the housing boom in Toronto. They can surrender their leases at any time and sell their properties, but the proceeds wouldn’t buy a condo in downtown Toronto.
Islanders won the right to live in a fantasy land but they can’t afford to leave.
If you are not deterred by the resale conditions, you can add your name to wait list to buy a property. The wait list is capped at 500. Currently, there are no spots on the wait list.
Would you move to the Toronto Islands?
The paved streets on the Islands are for walkers and bikers
Even cops ride bikes on the Islands
The view has changed with time, but not the Island feeling
You can enjoy the view of the Toronto skyline from these lovely Muskoka chairs. The Toronto skyline is ranked as one of the loveliest and most recognizable in the world. I
n 1971, the view was completely different. Construction of the CN Tower started in 1973. The building boom that started in the 1970s continues today with highrises and condos springing up on every available piece of land in the downtown core.
Next summer, do you want to try the clothing-optional beach?
The water is clear and inviting. There are a number of beaches on the Island; the most famous is a clothing-optional beach.
There are 4 yacht clubs on the Islands
There is a lot to do on the Toronto Islands.
On Centre Island, there is an amusement park that is open in the summer. It has an antique carousel and a turn-of-the-century theme.
There is a farm with chickens and pigs and goats and all other farm animals.
There are tennis courts. You can play frisbee golf. There is a church, daycares and a public school to grade 6. There is a restaurant that is open for lunch 5 days a week.
There are no hotels.There are no bars. House parties ruled in 1971 and ever since.
At the end of the day, you need to stay with a friend or catch the ferry back to the mainland.
Time for me to catch the ferry back to 2016.
You can rent bikes. I walked
I walked all day. It was glorious.
As I was heading back to the ferry, I joined a line of photographers who were catching the sunset from this vista.
This ferry was bringing the Islanders home for the night
If you live on the Islands, your schedule is dominated by the ferry times. I wanted to catch the 4:30 ferry … so did all the other day-trippers. I had to wait for for the next ferry.
There is a pedestrian tunnel from the mainland to the Island Airport
The Toronto Island Airport opened in 1939. The Airport is at the western end of the Islands and is the closest spot to the mainland.
It is a regional airport that flies STOL aircraft (short takeoff and landing). The airlines want to extend the runway and offer jet service. This is an acrimonious issue in Toronto. Lots of front yards have signs that say “No Jets No.”
A bank of fog was rising over the west end of the city as I snapped this photo of a plane coming into the Island Airport. It looks like the plane is going to land on the water. I have flown into the Island Airport many times. On one occasion, just as we were about to touch down, the pilot ran out of runway and had to circle back up for another approach. The water looked VERY close.
We were treated to a beautiful sunset on the ferry ride back to mainland Toronto
Say goodbye to 17
As the sun set over Toronto Island, I said goodbye to my 17-year-old-self. I wished by sister and brothers could have been with me for my wormhole trip back to 1971. I couldn’t help but thing about the Joni Mitchell song released in 1970:
And the seasons they go round and round
And the painted ponies go up and down
We’re captive on the carousel of time
We can’t return we can only look
Behind from where we came
And go round and round and round In the circle game
I am so very glad that I had a chance to look behind and see the friendships that were forged on the Toronto Islands a life-time ago when we were young.
What would you say to your 17-year-old-self?
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