Ward Family 1847 - 1912

Five sisters perish in Lake Ontario

David Ward was one of the first settlers on the Toronto Islands in the 1830s. He settled at the east end of the islands – which was still a peninsula at the time (it became an island after a storm in 1858) – and ran a hotel. He had seven children.

The eldest of the children, William, was an accomplished sailor despite his young 15 years.

On May 12, 1838, he took his five sisters out for a sail – Rose, 5; Jane, 7: Cecilia, almost 9, Phoebe, 11, and Mary Ann, who was 12. They were in an open dinghy with a single sail and steered by an oar. The group sailed up and down the shore for about an hour when the craft was struck by a heavy gust of wind. William fell off the stern; then the boat filled with water and capsized throwing all the children into the freezing water.

With great exertion he was able to right the dinghy and get three of the girls into it, where they died. One of the others managed to get back into the boat through her own efforts and the remaining one held on to the gunwale. Another gust of wind filled the sail capsizing the boat a second time. The three dead bodies were washed away. Phoebe held on to the boat as long as she could and then went down.

All five girls perished.

Fortunately for William a man on shore saw the accident and ran to find a boat, arriving at the scene just in time to rescue the exhausted boy.

Naturally, the experience was traumatic for William who subsequently became famous for his lifesaving activities in the area saving many doomed sailors from ships which fell victim to Lake Ontario’s infamous storms.

William died at age 65 and is buried in Mount Pleasant Cemetery.

 

Ward's Hotel on Toronto Islands around 1900 / Archives of Ontario C 59-3-0-33-5

Ward’s Hotel on Toronto Islands around 1900 / Archives of Ontario C 59-3-0-33-5

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