By Joanne Doucette
While researching material for an upcoming book on the history of Toronto’s golf courses, I found myself with a huge amount of material even for one small golf course — that on Mugg’s Island. Every writer has to know how to cut and what to leave in and then find an editor to cut even more! Some suggest that I should just “stick to golf” and leave out some of the more controversial aspects of sports history such as anti-Semitism, racism and sexism. Some suggest that to explore these is just “identity politics”. Even the largest social media site will not allow me to publish what I’m putting here today as they consider it offends community standards. But I’m plunging ahead because I need your feedback. Read on!
Muggs Island, also known as Mugg’s Landing, is part of the group of Islands collectively known as “Toronto Island”. Landfill operations had expanded the island from 11 to 47 acres of sand and brush by 1920. Taking advantage of this, William George Whitehouse, a young English engineer who lived on Centre Island, laid out a makeshift 18-hole golf course on Mugg’s Island in 1921. It lasted only a few short summers. However, it wasn’t the first make-shift course there.
“It was a group of campers, in fact, who gave Mugg’s Island its name. In the 1880s four carefree bachelors – Chester Hughes, Jack Crean, Warring Kennedy and Jack Lye (who later became the Monarch of Mugg’s) – pitched their tent near one William Burns’ icehouse. The lads used to row, paddle or sail to work each day. One time, when rowing back from the city, they spotted a sign floating on the water, which had been tossed out after a play at the “Royal” that had closed. They towed the cast-off sign to their tent site and proudly erected it. The name of the play – and subsequently of their camp and its wild little island – was “Mugg’s Landing.”
In the 1890’s John George “Jack” Lye, and his friends got permission to build a cabin on Mugg’s Island. The young men also built their own nine-hole golf course there – cutting holes in the sand with their jackknives just as Toronto Golf Club members were doing in the East End. The Mugg’s Island golfers were young, but not poor boys. They were the sons of Toronto’s elite, some of whom belonged to the Toronto Golf Club, like Colonel Sweny and the Cassels, also had summer cottages on the Island. Lye recalled, “A group of young fellows who chummed around together, including our leader Warring Kennedy and myself, were asked by Warring’s dad, Mayor Kennedy, to build a camp on the island and to keep away undesirables. This we undertook to do.”
However, after World War One, Mugg’s original stopped coming, leaving “King John” Lye to rule Mugg’s Island alone. The golf course he and his friends laid out had not been used since the young men went off to war in 1914-1918. Some, such as Chester Hughes, never came back, dying in the trenches. Their course disappeared into the tall grass and poison ivy. Recalled young golfer George Hevenor, “It wasn’t really golf. We just chipped balls out of sand into tin cans.”2 Later, as a member of the Summit Golf Club, Hevenor won the club championship four times. Alongside representing Canada on two occasions as a member of Canadian Seniors Golf team, Hevenor also became a director of the Royal Canadian Golf Association. Not bad for a kid whose early experiences of the game were fostered on Mugg’s Island.
However, the story was far from over. Islanders have a well-earned reputation for being persistent. If at first you don’t succeed, try and try again – at least six times!
In 1928 a spokesman for Stanley Thompson, proposed a nine-hole public course on Mugg’s Island at a cost of $45,000. The course could also be expanded to 18 holes by extending the layout across Long Pond using a pull-boat to get golfers across, but plans fell through.
In 1930 William James Sutherland, secretary of Centre Island’s Businessmen’s Association, again proposed building a nine-hole course on Mugg’s Island to the City of Toronto Parks Committee. Sutherland owned the Hotel Manitou “for Gentiles of refinement” and the proposal was on letterhead with that slogan on it. Alderman Sam Factor immediately tackled the anti-Semitism. By this time the Jewish population of Toronto was about 50,000, and not to be ignored. Other city politicians opposed the proposal. Nevertheless, the City of Toronto Parks Commission negotiated with golf architects Millar and Cumming to lay it out.
That spring the T.T.C. opened a miniature golf course at Hanlan’s Point. It lasted only one season.
Three years later “Gentiles Only” signs went up at Balmy Beach and Jewish and Italian men and women fought Nazis and Swastika Club members in a public park — the infamous Christie Pits Riots. That year Hitler became Chancellor of Germany and the first Nazi concentration camp, Dachau, opened.
By 1936 when the Toronto Island Ratepayers’ Association met in Hotel Manitou and Sutherland again lead the move to build a nine-hole course on Mugg’s Island, Sam Factor was Toronto’s only Liberal Member of Parliament. Lobbying for the course continued through 1937, but anti-Semitism left a sour taste that the City of Toronto just wouldn’t or couldn’t swallow as World War Two loomed on the horizon. However, other golf clubs also barred Jews as well as Black Canadians and other visible and not so visible minorities.
In 1939 George McCordick proposed building a 3,000-yard nine-hole course and a clubhouse on Mugg’s Island. The Parks Committee turned him down. By this point “King John” Lye was old. The golf course he and his friends laid out had not been used since the young men went off to war in 1914-1918. Some, such as Chester Hughes, never came back, dying in the trenches. By 1944 when King John Lye died there were few traces of their Mugg’s Island course left.
In 1949 Parks Commissioner Walter Love began negotiating to buy the old York Mills golf layout for a municipal golf course.The Parks Commission considered other sites, including Mugg’s Island, but a bridge would be needed to Centre Island and the plan fell through.
In 1956 the new Metropolitan Toronto took over control of the Toronto Islands. There was again a proposal that Mugg’s Island be turned into a golf course and, again, it got nowhere.
In 1963 Metro Parks Commissioner Thomas “Tommy” Thompson created an amusement park at Centre Island with a miniature golf course. This mini-putt still operates.
 Toronto Star, June 15, 1921
 Sally Gibson, More Than an Island (Toronto: Irwin Publishing, 1984), pp. 98-99
 Toronto Star, June 18, 1966
One thought on “Mugg’s Island Golf Course: To Be or Not to Be”
Great 👍 story Joanne 😃 Wonder if there is a connection to John E Russell? I believe he was involved with the building of the Maple Leaf base ball concrete stadium after the wood one at Hanlon Point burned down. And Babe Ruth hit his first home run there⚾️
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