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September 5, 2012

Cynthia Hill: A World Forgotten (guest post)

Welcome, Cynthia Hill to Writer Wednesday! A graduate of Toronto's York University, Cynthia is the author of Idol Hands and What Lies Behind. She was the winner of the Scugog Council for the Arts Literary Contest - Prose Division - in 2010. A mom of four, she finds time for writing in between karate, ballet, and swimming lessons none of them hers) and working full-time. Learn nore about Cynthia Hill on her website and connect with her on Facebook and Twitter.


 A World Forgotten

In the early 20th century, there was a bustling community that included a hotel, movie theatres, schools, restaurants, a baseball stadium, and an amusement park. By the 1960s, only 250 homes remained, the hotels, movie theatres and stadium were all gone, the amusement park and restaurants were replaced.

If you’re not from the area around Toronto, Ontario, you might not even know that the Toronto Islands exist. Located in Toronto Harbour, just across from the famous CN Tower, Union Station, and the Royal York Hotel, the islands were originally a series of sandbars and peninsulas that were built up to shield the city from the waves of Lake Ontario. The Hanlan family built the first hotel there in the late 19th century, and the baseball stadium built there in the early 20th century was home to Babe Ruth’s first ever professional home run. A thriving community was built over the years, but in the 1950s and 60s, Toronto City Council decided that it would be better suited as parkland for all city residents to enjoy, and began expropriating and demolishing Island homes. A legal battle ensued, and eventually the demolition stopped, but the entire culture of the Island is different now. It’s still a wonderful, magical place, but I really wish that I could’ve experienced the place as it was.

I’ve loved going there ever since my first visit as a child, but when I found out that my great-great-grandparents had actually lived there, I became fascinated with the history of the place. From the moment I started researching the history of the Toronto Islands, I knew I wanted to set a story there. In the end, only a small part of What Lies Behind takes place there, but those are some of my favourite scenes. Someday I know I’m going to want to revisit that world again for a more extensive look. I mean come on, there’s a haunted lighthouse!

Lillian begins her story as a seven year old girl in 1929, enjoying a winter weekend with her grandparents on the Island. Life there is the total opposite of the strict, formal upbringing that she has at home. She continues to tell her story through the Depression, World War II, and beyond, and yet no matter how far life takes her, the Island is always a place where she can escape her problems for a while, and remember the magic of childhood.

I haven’t had the chance to visit the Islands this year, but hopefully before winter sets in, I’ll get the chance. (Although that being said, the ferries actually run all winter, too!) There is something about being there that gives me a sense of peace like no other place. Maybe this year, I’ll just walk around, and try to walk through Lillian’s steps, and imagine what it would have been like so many years ago. Maybe I’ll even find the elusive ghost in the Gibraltar Point Lighthouse.
Gibraltar Point Lighthouse on the Toronto Islands
Gibraltar Point Lighthouse on the Toronto Islands (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
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