I will always recall the Toronto Islands with enormous affection, if only for the most wonderful - and utterly unexpected - 'guided tour' that I was on the receiving end of!
I had a spare afternoon in Toronto, and as it was a beautiful, if crisp, spring day, I decided that I would take the ferry out to Centre Island and go for a walk. As I was waiting to disembark from the ferry, I fell into casual conversation with an elderly woman who was the spitting image of my mother-in-law (whom, I should add, I rather liked), and, as it turned out, just as determined!
The lady in question was a German lady who had emigrated to Canada with her organ maker husband decades earlier. When she was widowed, she had sold up her house in rural Ontario and had relocated to an apartment in Toronto. However, her greatest regret was that she no longer had a garden, and by way of compensation, she visited the Toronto Islands on a regular basis and regarded them as her own personal space.
And so I found myself being briskly but amicably 'frogmarched' around the island's perimeter for the next two hours. It was a slightly surreal experience to gain such a remarkable insight into her life - such as beaches where she had taken her kids to swim when they were young - and perhaps because we were total strangers who were unlikely ever to meet or interact again, she presented her memories with remarkable candour. I am left with the happy image of a woman in the autumn of a life well lived, juxtaposed with a springtime location of trees in bud and bulbs coming into flowers. Quite simply one of my happiest travel memories.
The Toronto islands comprise a group of about ten small islands that were originally part of a sand spit that was severed from the mainland during a particularly violent storm in the mid 19th century. The islands are primarily used as a recreational area for the city, with the small Centreville amusement park and a myriad of sporting facilities (including canoe and yacht clubs as well as swimming beaches for the hardy). There is also small, rather bohemian residential community of about 250 houses on the eastern section of the islands.
On a practical note, there is no road access to the islands, but regular ferry services departing from Ferryquay at the Toronto waterfront to docks at Hanlan's Point, Centre Island Park and Ward's Island. There is also a ferry to the small Toronto Island airport.
If the weather is nice, this is a beautiful place to while away all or part of an idle day, far from the bustle of the CBD. It's extremely family-friendly, but it's also possible to escape the crowds even in high summer if you're willing to walk for a while, so pack a book, a picnic and your sporting kit (if you're feeling active).
Ever since my childhood in Britain, I have been susceptible to the monochrome charms of Canada geese, which are surprisingly cosmopolitan birds with a range that spans Nothern Europe as well as North America. Seeing them bobbing away on Lake Ontario one breezy spring day was a treat and got me thinking about one of my favourite artists, the First Nation Canadian Benjamin Chee Chee.
When I first moved to Johannesburg, I had a flat in Berea, which is now the haunt of pimps, prostitutes and Nigerian drug lords, but was then a rather pleasant place to live for young professionals who were just starting out on their own. I used to commute into work in the Johannesburg CBD by bus, which would take me down Eloff Street, then the main shopping street of the city.
One day, the window display in a picture framers changed, as I was confronted by the first and only picture that has ever really 'spoken' to me. I spent a couple of weeks staring longingly at it as I rode past, and come pay day, I summoned up my courage and nervously entered the shop to see whether it was within my meagre budget. Happily it was, and the Benjamin Chee Chee print that you see in the photo entered my life.
25 years later, it still hangs in my lounge, in pride of place over the mantelpiece, and I can't imagine life without it. Its 'twin' hangs in my friend's house in Perth - she always admired it, so I presented it to her as a thank you for her support during a particularly traumatic period of my life.
Poor Benjamin Chee Chee was not so fortunate. The serenity of his work belies the fact that he was traumatised by being abandoned by his mother as an adolescent and descended into alcoholism and drug addiction. His short troubled life ended when he committed suicide in an Ottawa jail, aged only 32, leaving behind a glorious legacy.
Chee Chee was from Northern Ontario, and you will find his work represented in most gift shops.
My last visit to Toronto was at the beginning of autumn and already there was a sense of winter drawing in. I had fallen in love with a staggeringly expensive First Nation sculpture of a polar bear carved out of sugarlike limestone in a nearby gallery, and took a walk to clear my head and muster up the self control required to keep my credit card in check.
I wandered along the waterfront and happened across this open air skating rink close to the ferry terminal - still liquid at that time of year. On a bright crisp winter day, it must be a lovely place to spend time with friends ... provided that you're all rugged up against the cold.
Oh, and to this day, I still regret being Mrs Sensible and not buying the polar bear ...
A very good place to unwind. Very romantic and an ideal place for the whole family. A place to enjoy the view of the harbourfront, the skyline of downtown Toronto, and the amusement park and rides for the kids.
You have a choice to go to any of the three islands: Hanlan's Point, Centre Island, & Ward's Island. If you are with the family and young children, I suggest you go to Centre Island. For more mature patrons, Hanlan's Point and Ward's Island are the places you need to discover.
Schedules of ferry boats to take you to any of the three islands are detailed in the linkpage I provided below. Ferry costs $6 for adults, $3.50 for students and seniors. $2.50 for children under 14 years old, and FREE for kids under 2 years old.
Enjoy and have fun! You have so much to discover in our Islands!
A bay in the north shore of Lake Ontario. A very nice place to unwind. Though a bit touristy, it is a place for a great weekend destination. Activities in the harbourfront go on all day and into the night. The waterfront is a picturesque backdrop to some of Toronto's cultural attractions.
You will find yourself busy all day and maybe one day and night in the Harbourfront is not enough. I have a long list of activities in the area. From Art Galleries, Boat Cruises, City Tours, Visit to Historical Sites, Museums, Theatre and Stage Plays, Theme Parks & Entertainment Complex.
To be able to view the detailed information on what to see and what to do in Harbourfront, I am providing below the links for your convenience.
A day trip out to Toronto Island is a great escape during the summer for those of us who don't own cottages.
I usually take one of the two ferries NOT going to Centerville. The Centerville ferry is always the most crowded. The Centerville amusement park and farm will be a big hit with the young kids, there is also a place to rent bikes in this area, and of course, food and games and a "town hall."
Wards Island ferry will drop you off on the east side, where the resident live, I usually take this ferry because of the boardwalk along the shoreline and the lovely houses and gardens along the way.
OR you can take Hanlan's Point ferry which take you to the beach... the CLOTHING OPTIONAL beach. **You have been warned** There will be full nudity as well as clothed. It is still a great spot for a picnic.
If you are walking to Hanlan's Point from Centerville Or vice versa) search for the haunted lighthouse on the south west(ish) side of the island. Legend says that the lighthouse keeper was taken upon by thieves, and when he refused to relinquish his wallet, they cut off his hands and buried them somewhere on the island.
He can be seen wandering with his bloody stumps.... searching for his hands.
In the summer whenever I go down to the lake to putter about there is always an incredible street performer down there entertaining a crowd with his skills on a unicycle, juggling, and all sorts of fun things. People tend to start sneaking off when they feel that he is nearing the end of his show as he will pass a hat around for change...
There are an array of booths set up for people to buy arts and crafts and jewellry and funky dresses and some weekends there are live bands playing in the the bandshell.
There are 18 islands only a 10-minute ferry ride from the foot of Yonge Street in Lake Ontario. From here, you can enjoy panoramic views of the city skyline, miles of parkland with beaches, barbecues and picnic tables, boat rentals, bicycle paths, a children’s farm and even an amusement park. Bring your bike and a picnic lunch and make a day of it!
Check out the website below for the ferry schedule and fares.
The Toronto Islands is one of the biggest & also one of the most visited parks in the city. Why? Well, is surrounded four sides by water, the gardens are beautiful & it offers the best views of Toronto's skyline.
The park is divided into three main areas: Centre Island, Wards Island & Hanlan's Point. They are also the three destinations for the Toronto ferry.
Centre Island offers a kiddy amusement park called Centreville, which has attractions like the swan ride, the log ride & the Sky ride. There are also gardens, including a hedge maze, & one adorned by fountains. Usually Centre Island is where people start their journey on the island.
Ward's Island is on the Eastern reach of the park, one of the more quiet places at the park. Nearby is Algonqiuin Island, where a small village of people live.
Hanlan's point is on the Western end of the park, & this is where Babe Ruth hit his first professional homerun! It is also home to Toronto's first Clothing-Optional Beach, designated in 1999.
If you are planning to take a long walk or jog along Toronto Island Park, remember to stay within the inner waterfront, for views of the city is far more interesting than views of the lake!
My favourite activities at Toronto Island Park include biking, rollerblading, & even picnicing on its many green spaces. It is a lot of fun, & good excerise too! You could actually rent 1 - 3 passenger bikes at Toronto Island Park, though it can get somewhat expensive.
Harbourfront and Queen's Quay is a federal government attempt to restore the harbour district of Toronto. Back in 1972 this area was falling into decay and required restoration. The government took over control of much of the lands and began redevelopment. This has not been without controversy. Much of the lands where turned into condos and rather ugly ones at that. There is a lack of green space to relax in. Other than for an outdoor skating rink there is hardly any reason to come down here at all in the wintertime. There have been some recent openings of major nightclubs in the area to draw an after hours crowd.
For me the best time to come here is on the weekends in the summertime. There are always some kind of music and folk festival going on. You can also take a lakefront boat cruise which can be fun.
Queen's Quay is a privately operated building just to the east of the Harbourfront Centre. There is some decent shopping the main floor and a couple of acceptable restaurants and cafes where you can watch the boat sail by. Up above are condominiums where several of Toronto's professional sports celebrities have lived over the years.
Too much for one day! Union station is grand. Here the GO transit, Via, Amtrack, and City transit, link up. The sky path leads to CN tower and Covention Centre.
Do not exit the Union subway station and the TTC car will take you south to the Lake.
The Docks for summer time: There are three boats: one to Centre island (where most everyone goes and where the children's amusement park is), Ward's island (residential), or to Hanlan's (has a clothing optional beach...fairly hidden, clean, safe, and friendly). On the island you can purchase tickets for a small train tour, rent paddle boats, tricycles, tandems, and more. Most roller blade or cycle about. Bring a picnic with you because an ice cream bar is four dollars, roasted corn of cob 3, with little else other than pizza. Well perhaps there is more food in the amusement park, but prices will not be any better. Nothing notable about the few island restuarants.
Harbourfront is further on west past the ferry docks. Keep on Union/spadina car, when it exists to street level. Here is the Queens Quay building. The York Quay building is next door. Highlights are the international festivals of authors, vegetarian food fair, hot and spicy festival, international children's festival, and more. Year round are artists studios for glass blowing and pottery classes.
The street car continues west to Spadina where it turns north, past the Rogers dome, and heads to Spadina station on the Bloor line.
If you like art and craft, Harbourfront Centre is a must to visit. There are art studios where you can see glass blowers, pottery makers, painters working on their art works. There are also theatres, musical performances and dance.
Within the complex, there are restaurants and cafes with a great view of Lake Ontario, a marina and an outdoor skating rink with rentals available in winter.
I wanted to go on the tall ship that was at the harbour, but it was too early in the year (early June) for the ship to take tourists - they were still doing school tours. After I walked along the waterfront, I decided to take regular power boat narrated cruise of the lake and islands. This was really informative and I took a lot of pictures. I learned a lot of information about Toronto architecture and history which was helpful when I went up the CN tower to tell me what I was looking at. Most of the pictures were taken with a panoramic camera and need to be expanded to see the ends.
Their website says:
ENJOY A THROUGH TORONTO'S SCENIC HARBOURFRONT AND ISLAND PARKLANDS! THE NUMBER ONE CHOICE FOR A TORONTO HARBOUR TOUR!
Experience a narrated tour aboard one of Mariposa's classic vessels. Thrill to Toronto's breathtaking skyline and take in the sights and sounds of the Toronto Islands, Island Airport, Harbourfront, CN Tower, Skydome, Air Canada Centre and the fabled Gibraltar Point Lighthouse.
YOUR HARBOUR TOUR FEATURES
Fully licensed cash bar and snacks
Limited wheelchair accessibility
Both inside and outside seating
CRUISES DEPART AT
11:00 AM; 12:15 AM; 1:30 PM; 2:45 PM and 4:00PM
Call for extended season departure times
Adults $16.50 CAD
Seniors (65+) and Students (12-17) $15.00 CAD
Children (4-11) $11.50 CAD
Group and Charter Rates Available
Afterwards I went shopping and ate dinner at the Queen's Quay.
We took an hour island boat tour from the Waterfront. We were let off at and caught a later boat back to the mainland. We were impressed with the beautiful beaches, gardens, bike rentals, Theatre, Maze, statues, golf course, swan boat rides, docks, amusement park, pools, volleyball & tennis courts, farm, light house, picnic areas with fire pits ... We could have spent days exploring the islands by boat, bike, the tram ...
The beautiful islands are a :15 ferry ride and a world away from downtown Toronto.
Toronto's Harbourfront is, in my opinion, the best of what Toronto has to offer. The lakeside can be visited both on foot and by bike, and a number of attractions have been set up along the way for those who want more than just good views of the city and the waterfront.
For those interested in arts and culture, the Harbourfront Centre hosts a wide variety of shows and events. There are so many it is much easier for me to just list their website here: http://www.harbourfrontcentre.com/
There are also several parks and gardens, especially as you head west. The most interesting one is the Music Garden, which is a landscape representation of Bach's"Suite No 1 for Unaccompanied Cello." Free concerts are held there on Thursdays at 7 p.m. and Sundays at 4 p.m. (weather permitting).
Still further out west, Exhibition holds many events throughout the year. Even if there is nothing going on when you are there, the early 20th-century original exhibition buildings are some of the finest you will see in Toronto.