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Toronto: Scenes From A City: The Toronto Islands

Toronto: Scenes From A City: The Toronto Islands

Surely one of the most glorious destinations in the GTA is the Toronto Islands. This cluster of small islands sits in the Toronto harbor about a 10-minute ferry ride from the mainland. The islands have been a favourite destination for Torontonians and tourists for decades and have hosted a variety of events—from cultural celebrations to music festivals—that have drawn thousands.

Like the Leslie Spit, the islands are a self-contained sanctuary where motorized vehicles are prohibited (save for ambulance, fire trucks and city vehicles). The most popular mode of transport on the islands other than foot, is bicycle. There are also tandem bikes and peddle-powered trams for groups of four to eight people to explore the paths, scenery and activities.

Centre Island is a popular destination for families as it is like
a tiny Disneyland…

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Inter-Island canal.

Your journey to the islands begins at Harbourfront, where the Jack Layton Ferry Terminal is packed with island-bound picnickers, cyclists, hikers and sun-worshipers making their way to the various beaches—the most popular (and somewhat notorious) being Hanlan’s Point). There are three ferry destinations: Ward’s Island, Hanlan’s Island and the most densely populated, Centre Island. I typically take the Ward’s or Hanlan’s ferries as they are less densely populated and take you to the quieter parts of the archipelago (especially good if you have a bike).

If you wander off the path at Hanlan’s, you’ll find yourself on the famous beach where many go to bask au naturel.

The islands are a treasure trove of flora and fauna. I have seen red-crested woodpeckers, blue jays and cardinals, not to mention the variety of waterfowl including ducks, geese, swans and loons. Of course, visitors will find a variety of domestic and exotic creatures at Far Enough Farm, located in the heart of Centreville. Here, you can commune with llama, peacocks, horses, ponies, donkeys, sheep, goats, pigs and partridges. Centre Island is a popular destination for families as it is like a tiny Disneyland, with rides and games as well as rental rowboats, canoes and kayaks to explore the many tributaries within the islands.

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For a more bucolic experience, head to either Ward’s or Hanlan’s for quieter strolls or cycling through forest-lined paths and open fields of green. You’ll find some beautiful gardens and flower banks filled with butterflies and bees flitting from blossom to blossom. If you wander off the path at Hanlan’s, you’ll find yourself on the famous beach where many go to bask au naturel.

It is a shutterbugs dream and an incredible demonstration of how much Toronto has grown over the past few decades.

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Island gardens.

Ward’s Island is closest to the shoreline on the east and is where you’ll find a yacht club and a small hamlet of homes. Wend your way through the paths and sidewalks and explore the beautiful gardens and unique cottages and homes where people live year round. A word to the wise, if you are planning to walk or cycle though the little neighbourhoods, please do so quietly and respectfully as people live here and appreciate quiet visitors.

IMG_1378Ward’s Island offers some spectacular views of the Toronto skyline where you can take in the full lakefront, as well as the soaring towers that have sprung up like great glass aeries. Scads of sailboats, motorboats, kayaks and canoes fill the harbor as planes fly overhead on their descent into Billy Bishop airport. It is a shutterbugs dream and an incredible demonstration of how much Toronto has grown over the past few decades.

Fun fact about the Toronto Islands: they weren’t always islands…

 

IMG_1502The south end of Ward’s has small beaches and a boardwalk that leads along the coast to a pier. Relax on the pier while you watch scores of sailboats drift by or watch the seemingly non-stop air traffic of seagull and cormorants as they go on one sortie after another in search of food. If the wind is blowing in the right direction, you can hear the cacophony of the nesting grounds from across the channel.

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Fun fact about the Toronto Islands: they weren’t always islands. They used to be part of a larger peninsula until the mid-1800s. In 1852, a huge storm flooded the peninsula and creating a channel. A few years later, another huge storm finished the job my widening and deepening the channel, thereby forming the beloved islands Torontonians know and love.

All photos by Andrew Vail.

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Andrew Vails writing career began in Halifax when he was but a child. In Grade 4, he wrote and produced his own series of comic books entitled “Freaky The Frog”, the on-going tale of a little misfit frog and his pals of the pond. Marvel Comics never came knocking but Andrew knew he loved to create and tell stories. Since then, Andrew has worked in advertising, PR and publicity; has interviewed politicians, rock stars and very interesting yet not-so-famous movers and shakers. He has published articles in a variety of local and national magazines and websites. Andrew is currently working on the project queer50.com.


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2 Comments

  1. Thanks for the lovely tour of the Islands! 🙂

  2. My favourite place to visit in the summer and autumn. It’s a pity I get there as infrequently as I’d like.

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