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Toronto, NSW

Charming town on the western shore of Lake Macquarie.

Toronto is located at the western end of a long peninsula that juts out from the north-western shore of Lake Macquarie. It is a town of contrasts. The western side is bordered by dry scrub while the eastern side and the peninsula are green and leafy with upmarket homes, most with boat ramps, located along the lake foreshores. Fishing, sailing and rowing are popular options for local recreation. There are many excellent parks along the lake shores and the history of the flying boat base at Rathmines is fascinating.


Toronto is located 138 km north of Sydney via the Newcastle Freeway - the M2 and M1.


Origin of Name

Toronto was created as an investment. The company involved, the Excelsior Land Investment and Building Company, purchased 1,280 acres in 1885 with plans to create a tourist resort on the shores of the lake. The property they purchased was known as Ebenezer and was owned by Lancelot Threlkeld who had used it as a mission for the local Aborigines. The investment company knew the railway from Sydney to Newcastle would soon be completed. The town was named in honour of world-champion sculler Edward Hanlan, a Canadian who had visited Australia in 1884.


Things to See and Do

Toronto Foreshore
Victory Parade runs along the shoreline and passes the Toronto Hotel and Toronto Foreshore Park. In the park is a tablet with the following inscription: "This is the site of Reverend Threlkeld's second mission for Aborigines, established in 1830 on his 1,280 acre grant, 'Derambambah'. Purchased by the Excelsior Land Co., together with 9.5 miles of Crown waterfront reserve, the subdivision was named Toronto. Picnic grounds were established and the Toronto Hotel opened 27.12.1887. The suburbs of Carey Bay, Coal Point and Kitchen Bay are also part of the old grant 'Berambambah'. "
There is a charming walk along the foreshore and the well grassed area has numerous boat ramps and small marinas. There are views northwards across to Kooroora Bay and north-east to Bolton Point, both on the next peninsula.

Lake Macquarie and District Museum
Lake Macquarie and District Museum, which was opened in 1992, is located on Victory Road at the western end of the Toronto Foreshore. It occupies the old Toronto railway station, now restored. The railway tracks are still there, albeit rusty and unused. It now houses the Historical Society's collection of historical photographs as well as "Themed displays include presentations on the Rathmines former Flying Boat base, the history of the Morriset Hospital and the historic railway." It is open Sundays and Wednesdays from 1.00 pm - 4.00 pm, tel: (02) 4959 8063.

Toronto Hotel
Situated opposite the Toronto Foreshore Park at 74 Victory Parade overlooking the lake, this attractive historic building (1887) has ornate iron posts and fencing around sections of the veranda and balcony which is distinguished by ornate cast-iron lacework. It was built by the developer who created the town.


Other Attractions in the Area

The Peninsula
There is a delightful drive down the length of the peninsula to Coal Point and Skye Point. Take Victory Parade and continuing south until the road turns into Coal Point Road and heads back up the western side of the peninsula. There are three very small plots of parkland left at the end of the promontory - Gurranba Park on the northern side; Threlkeld Park on the southern side and Birriban Park at the eastern tip. Gurranba looks northwards to Green Point and Rocky Point on the north-eastern shore and to Speers Point at the northernmost tip of the lake; Birriban offers a view north-east to the flotilla of Belmont jetty, east to Lake Head, Pelican and Swansea and south to the long, narrow Wanmgi peninsula. Threlkeld Park looks south directly across to Fishing Point and west to Rathmines. At the south-western tip of the peninsula is Kilaben Park where there is a wharf and swimming pool and views eastwards out to Skye Point and beyond to Swansea, south-west to the stacks of Eraring Power Station and due south across to Rathmines which is less than a kilometre away.

The primary appeal of Rathmines is its remarkable history as the N0.9 Squadron flying boat base during World War II. There is a very useful brochure - Rathmines Park on Lake Macquarie - put out by the Friends of Rathmines and available at Lake Macquarie Visitor Information Centre, 228-234 Pacific Highway, Swansea. At the entrance to Rathmines Park at Styles Park there is a detailed board which explains: "Home of World War II Royal Australian Air Force Catalinas. The Rathmines Base became operational in December, 1939, when No.9 Squadron with Seagull Flying Boats transferred from Point Cook, Victoria to Rathmines. During 1940 crews for Nos 9, 10 and 11 Squadrons trained at Rathmines. 1941 saw Catalinas arrive at Rathmines.
"The Catalina Squadrons played a significant role in Australian RAAF defensive and offensive operations. In May 1942 a Japanese task force bound for Port Moresby was located by Catalina Aircraft. Reports transmitted enabled the American and Australian Navies to intercept the Japanese force resulting in the battle of the Coral Sea. The outcome was the withdrawal of Japanese forces from Australian waters.
"One hundred and sixty-eight Catalinas were operational from Australia. RAAF Rathmines trained some two hundred Catalina air crews. Three hundred and twenty Catalina crewmen were killed during the War. Catalina operations consisted of reconnaissance, bombing, mine laying, supplying troops and coast watchers and performing air-sea rescue missions.
"The role played by Catalina aircraft and crews has received very little public recognition because of the need to maintain secrecy. Rathmines Air Force Interpretative Project is the first step in commemorating and celebrating their contribution to the defence of our country and the way of life enjoyed by our citizens."
On the headland in Rathmines Park is the Catalina Memorial to the RAAF Sea Plane Base. It has a plaque which reads "Dedicated to those who served at the RAAF Rathmines and to all associated with flying boats and seaplanes 1939-1960."
The Flying Base was situated at the site from World War II until 1960. It was officially closed on 6 January, 1961. Over the road from the memorial is the Rathmines Memorial Bowling Club which is located in the former Officers Mess.
The Toronto peninsula is separated from the Rathmines peninsula by Catalina Bay. Edward Hely, reputedly from Rathmines near Dublin, set up a farm of orchards and vineyard here c.1840.
Rathmines Park, which is located at the end of Dorrington Street at the north-eastern tip of the promontory, is a large, lakeside recreation area with picnic facilities, boat ramps and views northwards across to the Toronto peninsula.

Lake Macquarie City Art Gallery
This handsome, modern building is located at 1A First Street, Booragul, is surrounded by a fascinating sculpture park which is ideal for a pleasant stroll beside the lake (there is a downloadable brochure describing each of the sculptures at https://artgallery.lakemac.com.au/downloads/AB866BFE220DEACEBF2DA263F599A2863F3EA462.pdf) and the gallery collection contains, as described on the website, "works by established contemporary Australian artists, a number of key works by Sir William Dobell (bequeathed by Ruth Spenser Komon), large-scale contemporary sculptures in the park and Indigenous works on paper." Check out https://artgallery.lakemac.com.au/collection. It is open Tuesday to Sunday from 10.00 am - 5.00 pm, tel: (02) 4921 0382.

A Brief History of Lancelot Threlkeld
Lancelot Edward Threlkeld (1788-1859), was a missionary and Congregational minister, born in 1788 in London who, by 1814 had been accepted as a candidate by the (London) Missionary Society and received instruction in theology and elementary medicine in London.
He arrived in Sydney in 1824 and proposed establishing a mission to the Aborigines. Governor Brisbane was agreeable; in January 1825 a site was fixed at Reid's Mistake (Swansea) on Lake Macquarie; and Threlkeld was appointed missionary.
He settled at Newcastle in May 1825. In 1826 he moved to his station Bahtahbah and began to instruct the Aborigines in agriculture. The cost of the mission saw the directors decide to abandon it in 1828 and they dismissed Threlkeld.
Threlkeld was tenacious. He was able to secure a grant of land from Governor Darling in 1829, and in January 1831 he was confirmed him as missionary. Soon afterwards he moved to Ebenezer (Toronto) on the opposite side of the lake. In the next ten years he consolidated his work; with the assistance of the tribal leader, Biraban, he mastered the dialect, acted as interpreter for Aborigines on trial in Sydney, and printed regular reports.
His published language studies are now regarded as landmarks in Aboriginal Studies. The station became a show place and was visited by international dignitaries. Threlkeld also formed an acquaintance with influential persons interested in Aboriginal welfare.
Although the mission had some success, Threlkeld regarded it as a failure because he made no apparent converts. By 1840 he reported that very few Aborigines were left at the station; Governor Sir George Gipps terminated government support and the mission was officially closed on 31 December 1841.
Threlkeld continued to sit on committees for the welfare of the Aborigines and to attend the police courts on behalf of Aboriginal defendants. He was convinced that the intellectual capabilities of the Aborigines were equal to those of Europeans.
Threlkeld died suddenly on 10 October 1859. His principal publication had been An Australian Grammar … of the Language, as Spoken by the Aborigines … of Hunter's River. It was published at Sydney.
This is abridged from the Australian Dictionary of Biography. For a more detailed account check http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/threlkeld-lancelot-edward-2734.



* Prior to the arrival of Europeans the area was occupied by people from the Awabakal Aboriginal language group. A midden discovered at Swansea Heads in 1971 has been dated to 7,800 years before the modern era.

* In 1800 Captain William Reid became the first European to explore the shores of the lake. He had been sent from Sydney to collect coal from the mouth of the Hunter River. He mistook the channel into Lake Macquarie for the river estuary. Members of the Awabakal tribe directed him to some coal in the headland. When he returned to Sydney he realised that he had reached the lake and not the mouth of the Hunter River. The lake became known as Reid's Mistake until 1826 when it was renamed in honour of Governor Lachlan Macquarie.

* Pressure from settlers wishing to move into the Hunter Valley caused the penal settlement at Newcastle to be moved to Port Macquarie in 1822.

* Lieutenant Percy Simpson was probably the first European settler in the Lake Macquarie area. He received a 2000 acre grant in 1826 at Cooranbong, was assigned six convicts who cleared the land, grazed cattle, and built a homestead and stockyards near a ford over Dora Creek.

* In 1826 a missionary, the Reverend Lancelot Threlkeld, an ex-actor and businessman, established a 1000 acre reserve for an Aboriginal mission which occupied the whole northern peninsula of Lake Macquarie from Pelican north-west to Redhead and north-east to Croudace Bay. Threlkeld chose the land after noting it was a gathering point for Aborigines, drawn by the living conditions and food around the lake. The mission closed in 1828.

* Threlkeld set up a second Aboriginal mission at Toronto (it was known as Ebenezer) in 1829 with government assistance. It covered an area of 1280 acres. He transferred from the original location on the eastern shore of the lake.

* Threlkeld started the first coal mine at Coal Point around c.1840, and subsequently bought ten acres at Swansea Heads for coal-loading and storage in 1842. The coal was shipped to the entrance channel by barge. He employed seventeen men in the enterprise.

* By 1841 there were less than 30 Aborigines left on the mission and it closed. In this year Threlkeld started the Ebenezer Coal Works.

* In 1844 Threlkeld sold the mine and moved to Sydney but continued to work for Aboriginal welfare, acting as a translator in court. His work on the Awabakal language was an early landmark of Aboriginal studies.

* The coal mine was worked until 1850. It reopening briefly in the 1850s and 1890s.

* The town of Toronto was established by the Excelsior Land Investment and Building Company who purchased the entire Ebenezer estate in 1885 with plans to create a tourist resort on the shores of the lake not too far from the new railway line.

* In 1886 a brickworks was opened.

* The Excelsior Land Investment and Building Company built the Toronto Hotel in 1887.

* From 1886-1891 visitors to Toronto disembarked at Fassifern train station and travelled by boat from Fennell Bay to Toronto wharf.

* A post office was opened in 1889.

* The first school was opened in 1890.

* The Excelsior Land Investment and Building Company established a tramway connection from Fassifern to Toronto in 1891.

* The town's first church, an Anglican church, was consecrated around 1900.

* A proper railway branch line was built in 1911.

* The town's first electric lights were switched on in 1923.

* Only after World War II did Toronto become a tourist destination.

* The tramway from Fassifern to Toronto was closed in 1990.


Visitor Information

Toronto does not have its own Visitor Centre but there is an excellent Visitor Centre at Swansea. Check out Lake Macquarie Visitor Information Centre, 228-234 Pacific Highway, Swansea, tel: 1800 802 044. Open 9.00 am - 5.00 pm.


Useful Websites

There is an interesting and detailed local history at https://history.lakemac.com.au/page-local-history.aspx?pid=1085&vid=20&tmpt=narrative&narid=84.

Got something to add?

Have we missed something or got a top tip for this town? Have your say below.

4 suggestions
  • My name is Rob Sampson, I am an Aboriginal man from the Worimi people at Port Stephens, great grandson of William King Billy Ridgeway and Queen Charlotte Ridgeway. I’ve worked in the tourism industry for over 36 year’s. I’d like to suggest a bigger Aboriginal cultural element be added with post-colonization information and walking track associated with Toronto and the Greater Area of Lake Macquarie. Maybe cultural tours from Toronto by ferry or cruiser to remote Aboriginal significant sites around the shores of Lake Macquarie.

    Robert Sampson
  • Shocking, as I visited my brother’s place in Toronto, I noticed that most of the shops in The Boulevarde are run down. They were thriving 20 years ago. What happened?

    David Lynn
  • The old Toronto train station has been turned into a little museum. It was a fascinating little pit stop and volunteers were very nice but it is rather small.
    Also Greg Piper’s office is nearby, top bloke.