In 1935, the proposal to build a tunnel to, and airport on, the Toronto Islands became the hottest political issue in Toronto.
The Harbor Commission sought $1-million from the federal government's stimulus spending to build the tunnel - which was an integral part of the proposal to build an airport. The City of Toronto was to pony up more than $600,000.
The money was approved and work started, but a change of government later that year put an end to the project. Work on the political hot-potato was halted, and the tunnel dropped off the list of concerns.
From The Globe and Mail archives for 1935:
May 17 : "I think $1,000,000 can be spent to a greater advantage in Toronto than in the construction of a tunnel," said Controller Samuel McBride after the conference [in Harbor Commission offices]
"I intend to ask the city to request the Federal Government to earmark the $1,000,000 for Toronto, and receive suggestions from the city. We could spend it on housing or in building a Court House. We have other avenues through which the money might be spent to advantage." ... Mr. E.L. Cousins (Harbor Board engineer) stated definitely that the tunnel would not be built by the Government unless the city agreed to build the airport, which would cost in the neighbourhood of $309,000 and would be a necessary link in the trans-Canada service planned by the Federal Government.
May 18 editorial : There is evidence of divided opinion among the people of Toronto on the desirability of a tunnel between the Island and the mainland. Especially is this likely in the case of Island dwellers, many of these being opposed to any plan that would make this summer resort accessible to motor vehicles.
May 20 : Toronto Board of Trade approves the immediate construction of a combined airport and air harbour, and adjoining tunnel.
May 23 commentary : The Island tunnel appears to be on the way. When accompanied by an airport, this will be an impressive addition to Toronto's transportation facilities. Liberal members of the Federal Parliament have been blocking the vote of a million dollars for the Toronto Island tunnel. Is it the Island or the city vote they have in mind?
May 29 : 'Movement to Oust Harbor Commission over Tunnel Scheme'
The move is said to be due to the manner in which members of the Harbor Commission secured Federal Government support for a tunnel from the city at Bathurst Street and an airport with the Government, according to E.L. Cousins, Harbor Board engineer, insisted on, if it was to build a tunnel.
The [West Island Drive]association opposed the tunnel on the ground that it would destroy the Island for recreational purposes.
July-to-October : The tunnel-and-airport project is opposed by the Toronto Board of Trade, but eventually the money is approved by the Conservative Federal Government of Richard Bennett, and preliminary work begins at the site.
Oct. 23 : William Lyon Mackenzie King becomes Canada's new prime minister. Within a week, the new government considers postponing the tunnel's construction.
Oct. 30 editorial : "Sooner or later, the Island tunnel must be built. It is a necessary part of an inevitable and overdue development ... Like it or not, the Island tunnel is inseparable from the Island airport, and both are inevitable parts of Toronto's business development."
Nov. 7 : The issue has hit the Toronto Mayoral race, with tunnel opponent Samuel McBride vowing to run for Mayor if that's what he has to do to stop the plan from being pushed through.
Dec 14 editorial : The Federal Government's decision against providing funds expected to be "received with mixed feelings by citizens."
The idea drifted in and out of public discourse over the following decades. It was seriously proposed in 1982, and again in 1995.
From The Globe and Mail:
Nov. 24, 1982 : A $3-million pedestrian tunnel with a moving sidewalk under the Western Gap has been proposed for Toronto Island Airport. The tunnel would have escalators and elevators, a service corridor and possibly a fuel pipeline, according to a Transport Canada co-ordinating committee. Regular short-takeoff-and-landing service to Montreal and Ottawa is to begin at the airport next spring. The committee says the tunnel could be opened in 1988, and until then proposes improvement in the ferry service across the 400-foot gap.
However, the tunnel never became reality. The airport remains serviced by ferry, and the Toronto Port Authority recently ordered a second ferry, worth $5-million, to keep up with demand at the increasingly busy Porter Airlines terminal.