Only 13 minutes by ferry from downtown Toronto, The Island beckoned to me for awhile, making me wonder what it has to offer, especially after so many months of lockdown.
We lost our excitement when we found the ferry is running at half capacity, and, at that hour in the afternoon there were no more tickets available for the rest of the day. But not to despair, we looked immediately for a water taxi, which they seem to run in a much faster way. My hubby noticed the lines were much shorter at Pier 6, where we walked to in just few minutes, and voila, here we are, waiting patiently in a line, ready for a new experience.
The Toronto Islands, comprising around 332 ha, are basically an archipelago of 15 islands interconnected by pathways and bridges known as a popular recreation destination. Most of the taxis are going to the Central Island, which is in between Hanlan’s Point and Ward’s Island, and here we are in no time, ready for a long stroll along the island.
Once a peninsula connected to the mainland, it was transformed in 1858 into islands after a violent storm that swept through the area. A carriage route along the peninsula connecting from west to east was transformed in Lakeshore Avenue, an approximatively 5 kms promenade.
With several beautiful swimming beaches, sport facilities, bike, canoe and kayak rentals, gardens, playgrounds, one can have so much fun. Recreational boating is very popular, and you can see bigger or smaller boats running slowly through the island channels, or resting lazily in front of the Ward’s Island Beach.
A seasonal park, full of life from May to September, Toronto Island is renown as a popular recreation destination, offering many activities, for the big or the little ones. With plenty of picnic areas, anyone can spend a full day either on the beach, or in any secluded area, less beaten by the crowds.
The first buildings on the islands were built during 1790s, and the Gibraltar Point Lighthouse in 1809.
The Island is part of the treaty lands and territory of the Mississaugas of the Credit First Nation, and in the 1870s, settlers built the first cottages here, a church in 1884, and a school in 1888.
Developments as a summer suburb of Toronto followed shortly, with few hotels, summer homes, the Royal Canadian Yacht Club, and a tent community which turned into a seasonal cottage community later. By the 1920s, about 2, 000 people lived on Toronto Island and the population often increased to more than 10,000 in the summer. But after 3 decades, the regional government of Metropolitan Toronto began to clear the land of homes for a public park. After long political battles with Metro for 30 years, only 262 homes were saved in 1993. Today, if you want to purchase a home in this free-car community where only about 700 people live year-around in about 300 homes, you will need to go through a complicated waiting list process which a land trust now controls the sales for.
I’m not going to talk about Ned Hanlan, one of Canada’s greatest oarsmen whose statue stands erected beside the ferry’s terminal with the same name. Nor about the airport located on the island, opened in 1939, and used originally by expatriate Norwegians pilots-in-training during WWII.
A nice surprise of the evening was Gibraltar Point Lighthouse. Currently nestled among the trees, it was originally built few metres from the shoreline of Lake Ontario. Built between 1808 – 1809, this is the oldest surviving lighthouse on the Great Lakes, and the second oldest surviving lighthouse in Canada. Its walls are almost two metres thick at the base, and were raised to their existing height by adding stone in 1832. Fueled originally with whale oil, and coal oil, it was electrified in 1917; the light was changed from white to green in 1945, to distinguish it from the bright lights of the modern city. Nearly 150 years of service, the light of the Gibraltar Point Lighthouse was extinguished in 1957, being replaced by a fully automated, modern skeletal tower.
We didn’t wait to see the city lights in the dark, but rather soon after the sunset we returned on the mainland by ferry, as it turned out it was for free😊
Tip(s) of the day:
- Parking can be very expensive in downtown Toronto, up to $30/day; municipal parking can be cheaper, but further away from the shoreline;
- Wear proper footwear if you are for a long stroll on the island;
- Don’t forget your swimsuit if you are for a swim;
- Several water fountains are found along the main avenue, so you can fill your water bottle for free;
- Water taxi is $10 per person, but you can return for free, by ferry, from any terminal.
~ visited in July 2021