By Gregory Clark, August 20, 1921.

Two ferry-boats pull out of the foot of Bay street at the same time – say, 7.30 in the evening. One is bound for Centre Island. One for Hanlan’s Point.

The difference between day and night, between red and blue, between the past and the future, is not so great as the difference between the crowds of passengers on these two boats side by side in the ferry slips.

On the Centre Island ferry, they look as if they are going home.

On the Hanlan’s ferry, they look as if they are not going home.

On the Centre Island boat, the crowd seems to be accustomed. It seeks its seats, and settles down for the short run, with the air of having done it often; citizens commuting to their Island cottages; engaged couples going over to a dance.

On the Hanlan’s ferry, no one settles down. There is the air of embarking on a voyage. Pairs of girls – no end of pairs of girls – more pairs of girls than there are pairs of men – sit down and restlessly get up again, trying different benches, different views, different prospects. Girls lean over the deck rails, drinking in the adventurous scene of Toronto bay, which is filled with deserted, looming dredges and scows, uneven pilings and the great expanse of mud which are the harbor improvement improving. The boys of the jazz orchestra on their way to perform at the dance pavilion at Hanlan’s uncork their instruments and play a little free music. Sophisticated girls and men peer about the shadowing decks. And innocents sit forward, their tired hands clasped between their knees, their mouths open with delighted gurgles of laughter, watching a jazz hound, with an astonishing long, hooked nose, whirling a girl with public school skirts about the crowded deck to the wild squeals the clarinet player can produce when playing for fun.

The bort fills with pairs, couples, singles and families, and in the midst of the rush, a whistle shrieks, there is a sound of thudding feet as the tail of the crowd runs aboard, and then the ferry moves out.

The two ferries draw apart. The quiet crowd on the Centre Island boat gaze and wonder who all these others are and where they come from. And those on the Hanlan’s ferry, milling about, peering, filled with the anticipations of a fine, large evening, promptly forget the other boat and devote their attention curiously to their neighbors.

And then, once out in the bay, a grimly humorous gesture, the sky-line of the city emerges against the northwest; tall chimneys lightly smoking, gloomy warehouses and factories abandoned for a little, with their water towers straddling the roofs; a forbidding, untidy, massive scene. Out on the ferry, the jazz band makes a sound of gayety, and the crowd taps its feet on the decks. But the ominous sky-line seems to be saying:

“All right! Go your little trip away. Dance and stroll in the bright lights, laugh and throw balls at stuffed cats. But I’ll waiting here for you, chimneys, factories, and all. Don’t be long!”

What makes the Hanlan’s Point crowd appear so restless and moving is the variety of the people in it. An amusement park draws people of a greater variety than a baseball game or a theatre. And in the ferries, on the boardwalk, in the booths, they are jostled together, rich and poor, tame and wild, timid and bold, until an atmosphere of adventure is created even though there be no adventure.

Here in this shipload belched ashore at the Point are skivvy and mistress, boss and mechanic, old and young.

Highlights – there a girl in a crimson tam, with very beautiful white teeth and a fat gob of gum in her mouth, her beady black eyes squinted in laughter with her chum at a middle aged man whose face is deformed. An elderly lady accompanied by her pretty, stylish daughter; the two of them out on a private little binge: one wonders if the girl is sacrificing an evening to take her poor old mother for an outing, or whether mother is taking her girl out for a bit of gayety to help her get over some mistaken love affair; or perhaps, after all, they are just chums, mother and daughter, who have enjoyed things together ever since the first baby rattle!

Scores and hundreds of lovers in pain and double pairs, discovering new aspects of each other under the stimulus of the crowd and the lights. A jealous young man glaring suspiciously at all other men who came near his girl in the crush. A dignified old lawyer or something of the sort, having his silhouettes cut by an itinerant artist. Among the silhouette on the artist’s show board is one of Napoleon. The old gentleman posing thrusts his chin down and protrudes his lower lip. It’s all he can do to prevent his hand straying into the upper buttons of his vest.

On the merry-go-rounds, among the thrilled, slightly scared children, a very severe and stodgy stout lady, side-saddled on a lion, bobbing solemnly up and down, round and round, to the loud jangle of music. She has a kewpie doll cradled in her unaccustomed arms.

A yellow-headed little boy, screaming with fright, hugging the neck of the merry-go-round donkey, going through a childish inferno while his papa and mamma gesticulate frantically and helplessly on the boardwalk beside the great whirling wheel.

The games of skill have lost popularity to games of chance. You can see the gambling spirit of the age in modest form. In place of throwing balls, rings, darts, etc., eight of you may line up at a counter and roll balls at difficult holes, whichever ball settles first winning the prize. Or rolling a ball on to a stationary roulette wheel. Or blowing up, by means of a wheel, toy balloons set as heads on tailors’ dummies, whichever balloon bursts first winning the prize.

Relaxation, mischief, escape, rebellion – a thousand motives, a thousand desires, all diluted, weakened and lost in the massing of humanity.

A mechanical piano in an ice cream parlor crashes out the march from “Tannhauser.” The educated young man smiles contemptuously, the serious clerk, now into volume four of the Jones Institute efficiency course (in thirty-two volumes), thrills to this strange, new music. The impatient girl in the red tam hears two or three bars of it, estimates its jazz content, sniffs and forgets it instantly with a swift comparison to “Ain’t we got fun?” or “The Disarmament Blues.”

And so for three hours, lights, music, jostling.

And on the return journey to the city, fortunately, the sardonic sky-line of beckoning chimneys and factories is hidden by the night.

Editor’s Notes: The ferries to Harlan’s Point and Centre Island still run, but the Harlan’s one no longer runs as late.

Kewpie dolls were a brand of dolls that were very popular in the early 20th century based on the comic strip by Rose O’Neill.

Tannhauser is an 1845 opera by Wagner, which would not be popular with the young people compared to the jazz song “Ain’t We Got Fun“, which was brand new in 1921.