Coaster Enthusiasts of Canada

Closed Canadian Parks




(Peninsula Pleasure Grounds)
(1843 - 1853 ? 1858 ?)

    This was Ontario's (and possibly Canada's) first amusement park. Located on Toronto Island(*) in York (now Toronto) Harbour, it started as a hotel which had been built in 1833 by Michael O'Connor. After it changed hands several times, it was leased in 1843 by Louis Privat whom opened it as The Peninsula Hotel. At that time, the islands were still connected to the mainland, hence the name "Peninsula". His brother Joseph (Peter from another source) joined the venture and the business began to grow.

    Lynne Privatt says of the name confusion: "They are Louis Joseph Privat and Peter Louis Privat. The story has it that Peter went by the `Louis' while working in an aristocratic household in Europe because there was already a `Peter' working there. Sources indicate that both went by the name Louis. To further confuse things, some of the papers for Louis Joseph are listed (due to he Alsace-Lorraine area in France, and later England) as Ludwig and/or Lewis. Some sources indicate that Peter ran the hotel, and Louis Joseph took care of the ferry service."

    That same year (1843), the brothers acquired a steam boat hull from the Niagara River to convey guests to the hotel. They converted it to run by horse power, which consisted of two horses, each walking on a treadmill. Each treadmill was connected to a side paddle wheel. They even offered season passes for the boat, which was called Peninsula Packet. By 1845, the boat was enlarged, given a pointed bow, and horse power stepped up to 5 - now all walking on a single, circular treadmill.

Peninsula Packet
Mid 1840s

(Image: Improved `Peninsula Packet')
    Here is the improved version of the ferry. As you can see in this hand drawing, it was still little more than a barge with side paddle wheels. Note the circular treadmill for the horses and the fact it was not separated from the passengers.

    Over the next few seasons amusement attractions were added in an area they called The "Peninsula Pleasure Grounds". These included a small zoo, bowling ("Ten Pin Alley"), swings, and a carousel - apparently hand-operated by two attendants pushing the ride around. A day-care service was offered in 1849. In winter, the hotel still operated and offered sleigh rides, skating and dog sledding. The spot was also popular because it serverd alcohol, even though it was not legal to do so.

    Business prospered, so in 1850, the horse boat was replaced by the steam-powered ferry Victoria. Also that year, a competitor, Reuben Parkinson's opened a hotel. (Another source gives 1847.)

    The Privat brothers' hotel was eventually purchased by John Quinn in 1853. He added another ferry (Citizen) so that runs could be made every 35 minutes instead of every hour. It's unclear if he continued the amusement area, but likely did given the popularity of it.

    Business was so brisk that in 1854, a competitor, Robert Moodie, began a ferry service as well. This prompted Quinn to add another boat to his fleet. By 1857 Moodie added yet another, allowing for five ferries making the crossing. That year, Quinn was having erosion problems and during a storm the back part of the hotel and bowling alley washed out. He renovated over the winter but his efforts were to be for naught.

    On April 13th, 1858 a particularly bad storm washed away the hotel, the surrounding amusement area, and the smaller Parkinson's hotel. Quinn did not rebuild, but Mrs. Parkinson did in a different area on the island. Her hotel was eventually sold and then ended up being purchased by the city, where upon it became park land.

    * The "island" actually consists of a series of islands in Toronto harbour. Before the big storm of 1858, the main island alternated between peninsula and island because of a sand bar that connected the island to the mainland. It frequently washed away in storms but would reappear after a period of time. The storm of 1858 was fierce enough to open up so much water that the bar was unable to reform, making it an island, as it is today. The channel is now regularly dredged for shipping navigational purposes.

    For more on Privat's, see:
-Robertson's Landmarks of Toronto
-Toronto Island Ferry History

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