The Hanlan’s Point Stadium, later known as Maple Leaf Park, was once located on a portion of where Billy Bishop Toronto City Airport stands today on Toronto Island.
Creating the Park
In the later part of the 1800s, Toronto Island became increasingly popular as a place for summer cottages and recreation. The owners of the Toronto Ferry Company saw the Island’s value and secured 2-acres of sand at the tip of Hanlan’s Point through a lease agreement with the city.
In 1894, the ferry company announced plans to fill in a long stretch of water along the western end of Hanlan’s Point to create a large park. Sand was pumped from the depths of Lake Ontario, and many tons of soil were transported from the city to reclaim 10 acres from the water. The stadium, which was part of the larger Hanlan’s Point Amusement Park, stood on the reclaimed land.
Initially a Cycling Track
The Toronto Ferry Company constructed a quarter-mile “wheel racing” track. The oval was 20 ft wide, had a concrete surface and was illuminated with 32 lights, so there were no shadows on any part of the circuit. A wooden grandstand was constructed around the track to accommodate about 2,500 fans. In June 1895, the Hanlan’s Point Stadium officially opened as a cycling track.
Toronto Baseball Club
In the mid-1890s, Arthur Irwin and a couple of Toronto business people purchased a baseball franchise from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, for the reported price of $2,500. They arranged with the Toronto Ferry Company to create a ball diamond at the new Hanlan’s Point Stadium and to transport fans to and from the Island. The stadium became home field to Toronto’s baseball team, an Eastern League (minors) ball club.
The diamond was laid inside the track with home plate in the southwest corner of the field and the third base line running parallel with the western side of Hanlan’s Point. The distance from the plate to the far fence was 146 m or 480 ft and was considered much further than even the heaviest hitter could smash the ball. The space outside the bases was sodded, and inside the lines was a smoothed surface made of a sandy mixture.
First Professional Baseball Game at Hanlan’s Point
On May 21, 1897, celebrating the city’s first Eastern League ball game on the Island, there was a carriage parade through the downtown city streets, honouring the Toronto and Rochester players. The Grenadiers Band lead the parade from the Grand Union Hotel, once at Front St W and Simcoe St to the Yonge St wharf. Players and officials set off for Hanlan’s Point. The Toronto Ferry Company had boats leaving every 10 minutes from Yonge St wharf and every 15 minutes from Brock St wharf.
That chilly afternoon, the first professional baseball game was played at Hanlan’s Point. In their home opener, Toronto lost against Rochester 11-10 in front of 2,000 cheering fans. Arthur Irwin, one of the team owners, was Toronto’s manager.
Some of the players on the team included John Frank “Buck” Freeman (RF), Bill Dinneen (P) and Dan McGann (1B), who all went on to have careers in Major League Baseball. Along with Toronto and Rochester, other teams in the international Eastern League included Buffalo, Springfield, Scranton, Syracuse, Wilkesbarre and Providence.
In June 1897 newspaper ads, General Admission to an afternoon championship baseball game with musical entertainment and an evening bicycle meet was 25¢, and grandstand seating was 10¢ extra. Admission for ladies was free except on Saturdays and holidays. Fans had to pay the Toronto Ferry Company for the boat ride to and from the Island.
Tecumseh Lacrosse Club
Along with being home to Toronto’s Eastern League baseball club, Hanlan’s Point Stadium was also the home field of the Tecumseh Lacrosse Club.
The Tecumseh’s first game on the Island was on June 19, 1897. They defeated the Montreal La Nationale’s in front of 1,500 spectators.
The Move to Diamond Park
In 1899, the Toronto Ferry Company, whose main shareholder was Lawrence “Lol” Solman, purchased the Toronto baseball franchise. Just a year later, following the end of the 1900 season, the ferry company sold the team for $6,000 to a small group of business people.
In 1901, after four years at Hanlan’s Point, the Toronto ball club was moved to the new Diamond Park, once in the Liberty Village area at Liberty St and Fraser Ave, on the southeast corner. Hanlan’s Point Stadium remained the home field to the Tecumseh Lacrosse Club.
The 1903 Fire at Hanlan’s Point Stadium
In September 1903, there was an extensive fire at the athletic grounds on Hanlan’s Point. The Island’s volunteer firefighters did their best to battle the fire, but shifting winds and faulty equipment hampered their efforts. Firefighters from the mainland initially could not reach the Island quickly enough due to a lack of boats to carry them across the bay, but they finally made it to Toronto Island. The fire attracted crowds of people at the waterfront.
In the end, the blaze destroyed much of the stadium and a bar that housed several of Mr Solman’s collectibles, including the scull that Ned Hanlan (Lol’s brother-in-law) won the world championship in. Estimated losses at the time were $15,000. Mr Solman thought the fire could have been started in the dressing-rooms by a tossed lit cigar or match.
Toronto Maple Leafs Ball Club
The local newspapers had been referring to the baseball team as the “Torontos” or the “Canucks,” but in 1904, while still playing at Diamond Park, the team became known as the Toronto Maple Leafs. After the end of the 1904 season, the franchise was again sold to a new company called The Toronto Baseball and Amusement Co for $20,800. One of the company’s six directors was Lol Solman.
The Maple Leafs ball club returned to the rebuilt but still wooden Hanlan’s Point Stadium for the 1908 season. It was a “fast new diamond,” and the Toronto Ferry Company had three of their largest boats quickly ferrying fans to the Island.
Tom Longboat & Hanlan’s Point
Tom Longboat, an Onondaga born in 1887 at Six Nations of the Grand River, was one of the world’s greatest long-distance runners. In 1906, Tom was the winner of the 30 km Around the Bay road race (1:49:25), and in 1907, the Boston Marathon champion (2:24:24). The following year, he represented Canada in the Olympics.
Tom Longboat ran several races on the stadium track at Hanlan’s Point from 1907 to the early 1930s, including winning a 20-mile race against British-born Alfred Shrubb (2:03:10). A member of Canada’s Sports Hall of Fame, Tom Longboat passed away in 1949.
The 1909 Fire at Hanlan’s Point
On August 10, 1909, there was another fire that was much worse than the blaze just six years prior. The fire started near the Gem Theatre building, just south of the stadium. It resulted from chemicals used at the theatre to create a red light for outside performances. By the time it was all over, one person had perished in the fire, Hotel Hanlan and the stadium were destroyed, and much of Hanlan’s Point Amusement Park was in ruins. Lack of proper fire protection and equipment was still an issue on the Island, along with low water pressure levels.
The place of merriment became a different kind of spectacle. The following day, thousands of curious visitors were ferried over to see the scene of the blaze and were surprised to find a band playing and the merry-go-round turning.
Mr Solman said he would rebuild a bigger, better amusement park and stadium. The Toronto Maple Leafs ball club temporarily moved back to Diamond Park while the new stadium was being constructed.
Maple Leaf Park
In May 1910, the new concrete and steel stadium opened at Hanlan’s Point. Toronto-born architect Charles F Wagner designed the 18,000-seat structure. Hanlan’s Point Stadium was now known as Maple Leaf Park. It was a cold and windy afternoon, but that didn’t keep 12,000 fans away. Admission to the games was priced at 25¢ and 50¢.
Babe Ruth & the Ball in the Bay
On September 5, 1914, the Toronto Maple Leafs had a home game against the Providence Grays. The Grays pitcher was the 19-year-old rookie George Herman “Babe” Ruth Jr. Ruth hit his first professional and only home run in the minors in that game. In a pitch from Ellis Johnson of the Leafs, Ruth sent the ball over the fence in right field, resulting in three runs. Babe Ruth only allowed one hit during the 9-inning game; the final score was Providence 9, Toronto 0. The Toronto Daily Star referred to Ruth as the “youthful southside phenom.” Babe Ruth quickly went to the majors.
On August 28, 1923, he was back at the Island Stadium playing for the New York Yankees in an exhibition game against the Leafs. During batting practice, excited fans saw Ruth hit a few balls into the bleachers and then wowed everyone when he hit the ball against the clock in centre field during fungo hitting.
But… during that game, Babe Ruth, the “Sultan of Swat,” hit a homer that soared high into the air and fell out of sight behind the bleacher wall into Toronto’s bay. That ball would be worth a fortune today. The Leafs took the win that game 8 to 2.
Demolition of the Stadium
For their 1926 season, the Toronto Maple Leafs moved to their new state-of-the-art home, Maple Leaf Stadium, at the foot of Bathurst St, south of Lake Shore Blvd W.
Back at Hanlan’s Point, Maple Leaf Park was still used for sports. In the mid-1930s, Hanlan’s Point amusement park, stadium, and several cottages (except for about 30 cottages that were moved to Algonquin Island) were demolished, and the regatta lagoon was filled in to make way for the Island Airport. In 1939, the Port George VI Island Airport officially opened. We know it today as the Billy Bishop Toronto City Airport.
Did You Know?
- When the Toronto Ferry Company opened the Hanlan’s Point Amusement Park and Stadium in the 1890s, it was a summer resort. The company also relocated, improved, and operated the well-known Hotel Hanlan. The nearly 100-room hotel featured views of the lake, a dining room, parlours, and electric lighting, all in a peaceful island setting. The landmark hotel was lost in the 1909 fire.
- In the early 1900s, Lol Solman and Ambrose Small worked together to put on a series of attractions at Hanlan’s Point. Mr Solman looked after the ferry service and Hotel Hanlan, while Mr Small managed the attractions. If the name Ambrose Small sounds familiar, he was the operator of the Grand Opera House and mysteriously disappeared in 1919. To this day, it’s still one of Toronto’s cold cases.
- Charles F Wagner, the architect behind Maple Leaf Park stadium, also designed La Plaza Theatre, today known as The Opera House.
- In 1911, the Tecumseh Lacrosse Club won the championship, and in a Labour Day game, there were 18,000 fans in attendance. The last advertised game for the Tecumseh’s was in 1915.
- Lawrence “Sol” Solman was a leading business figure in Toronto’s amusement world. He was president of the Toronto Ball Club and operated Hanlan’s Point Amusement Park, the Toronto Ferry Company, and the Royal Alexandra Theatre. When Lawrence Solman passed away in 1931, sympathies came from theatrical and baseball communities across Canada and the United States. Thousands came to pay their respects, and his funeral service was held at St Andrew’s Church at King St W and Simcoe St.
- The Toronto Maple Leafs ball club won a total of 11 pennants before folding in 1967.
- What is fungo hitting? It’s when you hit the ball out of your own hand, either into the air or onto the ground. It is a skill used by coaches to facilitate the practice of fielding grounders and fly balls.
Hanlan’s Point Stadium Photos
- Heritage Toronto
- The Globe Newspaper Archives: Mar 9, 1895, pg 17
- The Globe Newspaper Archives: May 29, 1895, pg 8
- The Globe Newspaper Archives: Jul 6, 1895, pg 7
- The Globe Newspaper Archives: Jul 12, 1895, pg 5
- The Globe Newspaper Archives: Dec 11, 1896, pg 8
- The Globe Newspaper Archives: Jan 12, 1897, pg 10
- The Globe Newspaper Archives: May 20, 1897, pg 10
- The Toronto Daily Star Newspaper Archives: May 22, 1897, pg 2
- The Globe Newspaper Archives: Jun 19, 1897, pg 19
- The Globe Newspaper Archives: Jun 21, 1897, pg 10
- The Globe Newspaper Archives: Aug 4, 1899, pg 7
- The Toronto Daily Star Newspaper Archives: Nov 21, 1900, pg 6
- The Toronto Daily Star Newspaper Archives: Mar 26, 1901, pg 10
- The Toronto Daily Star Newspaper Archives: May 16, 1901, pg 8
- The Toronto Daily Star Newspaper Archives: Nov 9, 1904, pg 10
- The Globe Newspaper Archives: Nov 29, 1904, pg 10
- The Globe Newspaper Archives: May 12, 1908, pg 7
- The Globe Newspaper Archives: Jun 28, 1909, pg 9
- The Globe Newspaper Archives: Aug 11, 1909, pg 1
- The Globe Newspaper Archives: Aug 12, 1909, pg 1
- The Toronto Daily Star Newspaper Archives: May 9, 1910, pg 1
- The Toronto Daily Star Newspaper Archives: Sep 7, 1914, pg 3
- The Globe Newspaper Archives: Sep 3, 1915, pg 9
- The Globe Newspaper Archives: May 3, 1923, pg 13
- The Globe Newspaper Archives: Aug 29, 1923, pg 8
- The Toronto Daily Star Newspaper Archives: Aug 29, 1923, pg 13
- The Toronto Daily Star Newspaper Archives: Jun 28, 1909, pg 9
- More Than an Island – A History of the Toronto Island by Sally Gibson (1984)
- Official Guide of the National Association of Professional Base Ball Leagues 1903 published by AG Spalding & Bros
- BAA: Boston Marathon Champions
- Bay Race: Around the Bay Road Race History
- Canada’s Sports Hall of Fame: Tom Longboat
- Photos: Denise Marie for TorontoJourney416
- Vintage Photos: City of Toronto Archives, Toronto Public Library, Archives of Ontario & Library and Archives Canada
- Street Photo: Google Maps
- Vintage Map: Atlas of the City of Toronto 1890 & 1912 by Chas E Goad courtesy of Toronto Public Library
- Toronto City Directory by Might Directories Ltd 1909 courtesy of Toronto Public Library