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Canada: Toronto Islands

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Toronto Islands | Canada | Americas

[Visited: April 2015]

Just opposite downtown Toronto, you can be in the relaxed environment of Toronto Islands in a mere ten minutes, and explore the quiet islands on foot or bike. I had been there once on an ice-cold winter day in search of a place to go skating. The ferry had to work hard to push its way through sheets of ice in Toronto Harbour, and when I arrived at the channels between the islands, it turned out there was a layer of snow on top of it, so skating was only possible on a small clearer patch. Now, I come back to Toronto Islands, also called Hiawatha, on an early spring day. I have plans to rent a bike, but it soon turns out that I am a little too early in the year. The ferry only runs to the eastern side of Centre Island, also dubbed Ward Island, and my only option is to explore the islands on foot.

Picture of Toronto Islands (Canada): Beach on the southwestern side of Centre Island

So I set off to explore the small village, with colourful wooden houses under trees; most of them seem to be empty. Are they just summer houses, are their inhabitants gone to work in the city? In any case, they all seem cosy, with wood for the fireplace, decorative elements, and often a little messy as well. A mailman makes his round on a bike through the forested alleys, and there is a strong feeling of a small village here. This actually is the largest urban car-free environment in North America. I walk to the east side of Ward Island, where I find a quay lined by trees, and several trails leading into the forest. It is a short walk to Ward Island beach, with crystal clear cold water lapping the shore. From the beach, I return to the small village, and walk the channel towards the west, with Algonquin Island across the water. When I reach Snake Island, I cross the bridge and walk around it. Here, I even see a melting chunk of ice in the lake: a reminder of a very cold winter which has just ended. On the north side of Snake Island, the skyline of Toronto comes back into view, dominated by the CN tower.

Picture of Toronto Islands (Canada): View of the skyline of Toronto from Toronto Islands

From Snake Island, I walk further west, and find out that even at the centre of Centre Island, everything is closed. No bike rental, no food, no information centre: it all opens in May. This explains why it is so quiet on the island. I walk around Olympic Island, and then back to the south side of Centre Island. There is a wide lane with fountains, but of course, the water is not running yet, and they are empty. At the beginning of the pier at the waterline, there are a red and green beacon. Further west, I walk a deserted beach, which curves its way around the southwest of the island. I wonder how crowded this must be in summer time, when it is an obvious escape from the nearby big city which is invisible from here. Close by, I find Gibraltar Point lighthouse. Toronto Islands were originally a sand bar in the lake, and connected to the mainland, but heavy storms in the 1850s created channels between the mainland and the sand bar, effectively turning it into a group of islands. The lighthouse was of course constructed at the coastline, but it now stands quite far from the water, surrounded by trees, and invisible from the lake. Walking north takes me to the ferry docks and small Billy Bishop airport, from which small planes regularly take off: I have heard and seen them from the other side of the island. There is a statue of Ned Hanlan, a famous Canadian sculler in the 1870s and 80s. Since the ferry to the city is not running, I now walk back on yet another beach on the far west side of Centre Island, and then all the way on the south side of the island to the east. The last part is on a boardwalk, covered by bare trees. I sit at the lakeside, enjoying the view of the city, until the ferry arrives and takes me back to the other side - and to food: I am starving!

Picture of Toronto Islands (Canada): Beacons at the south side of Centre Island
Picture of Toronto Islands (Canada): Looking up trees on Ward Island, the east side of Centre Island
Picture of Toronto Islands (Canada): Looking west on Ward Island beach
Picture of Toronto Islands (Canada): One of the houses in the village on the east side of Centre Island
Picture of Toronto Islands (Canada): Quay at the east side of Centre Island with the city in the background
Picture of Toronto Islands (Canada): South Chippewa island seen from Snake Island
Picture of Toronto Islands (Canada): Skyline of Toronto seen from a small harbour on South Island
Picture of Toronto Islands (Canada): Bridge between Olympic Island and Middle Island
Picture of Toronto Islands (Canada): View of Toronto skyline with CN tower from Centre Island
Picture of Toronto Islands (Canada): Gibraltar Point lighthouse on the west side of Centre Island
Picture of Toronto Islands (Canada): Statue of rower Ned Hanlan at the west side of Centre island
Picture of Toronto Islands (Canada): Trees lining one of the many paths over Centre Island
Picture of Toronto Islands (Canada): Boardwalk lined with trees on the southern side of Centre Island

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