Stories from Along the Shore: Hester Durnan

by JaneFairburn on September 22, 2013

Hester Durnan (also known on the Island in later life as "Bubbie") in racing shell, c. early 1920s. Courtesy Ted English © 2013

Along the Shore is not a traditional history book. Quite apart from the recitation of historical fact, I was interested in shining the light on people who live or have lived on Toronto’s waterfront. I wanted to describe their relationships with the water and the natural world, and by extension reveal, at least in part, the nature of the unique districts and communities at the waters’ edge. I only wish I could have included more of these stories, but time, space (and deadlines!) prevented me from going any further.

I’ve always viewed Along the Shore as a beginning though, rather than an end in itself. During the course of the last few months, readers have been sharing more stories about living along the shore. It’s my intention to share some of these yarns with you, readers, when time allows.

The Durnan family dates back to the 1830s on Toronto island, and were among the earliest keepers of the Gibraltar Point Lighthouse. They were at the very heart of Island life in days gone by, and count among their ranks boat builders, successful businesses men and women, and champion athletes. More than a century and a half on Toronto Island, they were also awarded medals for their heroic life saving efforts on Toronto Bay.

For now, I wanted to leave you with an image to whet your appetite. Here’s “Bubbie” Durnan, one of the Granddaughters of Emily (nee Hanlan Durnan), in what may be her father Eddie Durnan’s shell at Hanlan’s Point in the early 1920s. Eddie Durnan (the nephew of the world champion sculler Ned Hanlan) was a master boat builder and the “champion oarsman in America”, a title he held until his death in 1928. More later…

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Aralt Mac Giolla Chainnigh September 23, 2013 at 3:56 pm

I didn’t grow up in Toronto, or along the water, but I’ve lived by the water for most of my 25 years in Kingston. I used to get up almost every morning and take a canoe across to wolf island. I can make strong spiritual connections with the stories in this book.


JaneFairburn September 23, 2013 at 5:11 pm

Thanks Aralt. The water is a refuge and a gift, particularly for those of us who live in big urban centres. I know that Wolf Island has its own fascinating history, as do the lakefront areas I have featured in Along the Shore.


Leave a Comment

Previous post:

Next post: