Toronto Harbour, Or Bay

Table of Contents

Title Page
Harbours And Port
Toronto Harbour, Or Bay
The Port Of Liverpool, Or Pickering, Formerly Called Frenchman's Bay
Whitby Harbour
Port Darlington
Raby Head
Bond Head, Or Port Of Newcastle
Port Hope
Presqu'isle Harbour
Scotch Bonnet Lighthouse
Weller's Bay
Kingston Harbour
Sackett's Harbour
Port Ontario
Oswego Harbour
Little Sodus Bay
Big Sodus Bay
Genesee River
Oak Orchard Creek
Niagara River
Port Dalhousie
Port Of Hamilton & Burlington Canal
Port Credit
Wellington Square, And Nelson Or Bronte
Port Britain
Extract From "An Act To Compel Vessels To Carry A Light During The Night And To Make Sundry Provisions To Regulate The Navigation Of The Waters Of This Province." 14 & 15 Victoria, Chap. 126
Royal Humane Society's Directions for the Reocvery Of The Apparently Drowned
Table of Illustrations

Toronto Harbour
This spacious anchorage is without doubt the best natural harbour on Lake Ontario. It is nearly circular, being formed by the main land on the north, and by a long, low, and narrow spit of sand, on the east, south, and south-west, called the Peninsula or Island ; it extends in a south-westerly direction from the highlands in the township of Scarboro', and terminates in a point which suddenly turns to the north opposite the Old Garrison, and upon which trees of stunted growth are thickly scattered: thus is enclosed a beautiful basin of about two and a half miles in diameter, capable of containing a great number of vessels.


The south-west extremity of this island is called Gibraltar Point, on which is erected the Lighthouse, 66 feet high, having a fixed bright light.


The entrance to the harbour is by a narrow channel at its north-west corner between the Queen's Wharf and a row of buoys south thereof, which are placed in about ten feet water. The present channel is 300 feet wide, and about 600 or 700 feet long, having an average depth of 11 feet ; but owing to the extreme narrowness of this passage, large and heavily laden vessels often find it difficult, sometimes impossible, to beat in or out against a head wind.

This channel, however, is being widened from year to year by the constant use of the dredge ; and I believe it is the intention of the Harbour Master to continue this useful work until a clear available space of 400 feet has been obtained.


On the Queen's Wharf are placed the Harbour Lights-the northenmost a fixed red light, the other a bright beacon light on the western extremity of the pier. These lights when brought into line indicate the entrance to the channel. They bear N. by W. of the lighthouse on Gibraltar Point.

In working up the Lake from the eastward at night, give the shore a good two-mile berth when abreast of the Scarboro' heights, otherwise the light on Gibraltar Point will be hidden by the trees on the Island. If bound into Toronto Harbour, keep nearly a mile to the W. of the lighthouse, then steer N. for the harbour lights. In the spring and fall, fogs are prevalent, which hang near the surface, and do not ascend more than thirty or forty feet from the water; the harbour lights, then, will not be seen, in which case, when well to the westward of the lighthouse on the Point, steer for the North Star, immediately under which will be found the red light on the wharf.

When the fogs are so dense as to obscure all the lights or other land marks, the only safe guide is the lead line, and the shore should not be approached where there is less than six or seven fathoms water.


A sandy shoal stretches into the Lake for a quarter of a mile in a S. W. direction off Gibraltar Point, and is thence continued along the W. side of the Island extending N. to the Bar Buoys which mark the channel into the bay, at an average distance of a quarter of a mile from the Island.

Vessels running for shelter from an easterly gale should anchor on the W. side of the Island about one mile from the shore, where there is good holding ground in six or seven fathoms water, mud and clay bottom : if too near the Island the anchor will not hold in the sand, and a sudden shift of wind will put them ashore on the bar.


There is a large boulder stone within five feet of the surface, nearly midway between the Queen's and Garrison Wharves, and a little to the south thereof.


Much having of late been said regarding the advantages which Navigation, Commerce, and the City generally would derive from an eastern entrance to the Bay, I cannot allow the present opportunity to pass without raising my voice loudly against a measure, which if carried into effect, must be followed by the most disastrous consequences to the best natural harbour on Lake Ontario.

The authors of the able reports on "The Improvement and Preservation of the Toronto Harbour," - to whom prizes were awarded in May, 1854, by the Harbour Commissioners - are unanimous in condemning, not only as useless, but actually prejudicial, a canal through the bend or south-eastern portion of the Peninsula. If the integrity of the Island is maintained, there is not the slightest fear of the present channel ever closing, even if left entirely alone; it may become narrower, but it would never become so completely blocked up, as to convert the present bay into a small lake or pond : natural causes are at work to prevent it. During the eight months of the year that the Bay is clear of ice, the amount of water taken from its surface by evaporation alone is enormous : experiments prove incontestibly that three-fourths of an inch a day is a fair average to allow for loss from this source alone. Let us assume, however, that only half an inch takes place. What will be the result ? From the 1st of April to the 30th of November we have 244 days ; this divided by 2, gives 122 inches, or 10 feet 2 inches, the quantity of water taken from the surface of the bay during the above-named period. Again, taking the soundings of the Bay from the water's edge to its deepest part, we find that ten feet would be a fair average depth; thus we perceive that there is actually more water removed by evaporation than the Bay is capable of containing at any one time. How, then, is this loss supplied ? By an under-current of cold water constantly rushing into the Bay from the Lake, between the end of the Queen's Wharf and the bar buoys. This is clearly proved, both by experiment and by resorting to the same means which put me in possession of the fact. I have dived at least an hundred times from a boat moored in the channel near the buoys, and when at the bottom, with my eyes open, I have invariably seen myself drawn inwards towards the Bay, nor can I call to mind a single instance where the under-current set outwards or in the opposite direction.

I am well aware that the surface or upper current will often run out of the Bay, while the under current is running in, for this I have seen a minute after coming to the top of the water; neither will I deny, that occasionally, just after an easterly or south-east gale, when the waters of the Lake are driven up towards its head, and when the Bay in common with the Lake partakes of this rise ; or after a strong S. W. blow, which produces the same effect, that this under-current may be overcome by the pressure of the increased quantity of water in the Bay, and that a reflux current may for a short time be established.

The form or shape of the bar immediately opposite the Queen's Wharf, also proves the steady indraft into the Bay. I have always likened it to a man's foot; the shoal which runs from the N. point of the Island, terminates suddenly near the spot where the red buoy is usually placed, this I have compared to the heel; the northern end of the bar runs parallel with the wharf, and represents the sole of the foot ; and the many sandy prolongations which run easterly may be likened to the toes.

To this natural cause, and to this alone, the persistance of the channel at the Queen's Wharf is dependant: do away with this current or lessen its force, by another opening at the east end of the Bay, and in ten years' time the sand would gain such a mastery as to bid defiance to the dredge.

There are many other weighty reasons against making a canal at the S. E. end of the Bay; they are, however, so ably set forth in Captain Richardson's admirable report, that it is quite unnecessary for me to allude to them.

Might it not be desirable to build a short pier of crib work, say two or three hundred feet long, parallel with the Queen's Wharf, and at whatever distance from it to the south that the Harbour Commissioners may deem sufficient for the width of the channel, and upon the ends of which lights should be erected?

This pier would not in any way interfere with the escape of ice in the spring; it would clearly indicate the width of the channel, and for which purpose the present buoys are perfectly inadequate at night; and it could not have any injurious effect in causing the sand brought in by the wash of a S. W. wind from being deposited in any other situation than that in which it now takes place.

Should this suggestion not be deemed worthy of the consideration of the Harbour Commissioners, they should, in common justice to all sailing vessels (more especially strangers) visiting this port, cause to be placed at the narrowest part of the channel south of the Queen's Wharf, either a small beacon light (which might be lighted with gas), or a buoy fitted with bells, and which the action of the water alone would be suffcient to sound.


Taken from the Admiralty Chart, surveyed by Capt. Owen, R.N.

From Toronto to Burlington Canal (Hamilton) S. W. 35 miles.

" " Port Dalhousie, S. by E. 33 miles.

" " Mouth of Niagara River, S. E. by S. 35 miles.

(When on the bar bring the Fort Niagara to bear S. E. by E.)

" " Devil's Nose, E. by S. 86 miles.

" " Genesee River (Rochester), to clear Braddock's Point, E. by S. 1/4 E. 110 miles.

" " Oswego, E. 1/2 S. 176 miles.

" " Long Point Light, E. 1/2 N. 136 miles.

" " Cobourg E. N. E. 1/4 E. 78 miles.

" " Whitby N. E. by E. 34 miles.

No variation to be allowed for compass when within 20 m. E. or W. of Toronto.


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electronic edition is based on the original in the collection of the Marine Museum of the Great Lakes at Kingston.