Escape to the Toronto Islands
Brilliant blue skies with the sun a blaze stood in contrast to the vivid yellows and burnt orange leaves. The unseasonably warm temperatures had me tearing off layers on this early November day. And even though we came over on the ferry with at least two dozen others it felt like we had the Islands all to ourselves. I couldn’t have asked for a better day to explore the Toronto Islands.
A friend from Toronto was my local tour guide of the Islands for the day. She’s explored it numerous times and knows where to find its hidden treasures. From Ward’s Island’s charming residential neighbourhood to the amazing views over the city, I was blown away by the beauty, the untamed nature, and the feeling of being so far removed from the city – and yet so close.
We strolled down an old, abandoned mooring block to a sweeping view of Tommy Thompson Park to the south. I as so taken with Ward’s Island. Homes full of character and colour and each with their own name hinting to stories past.
A boardwalk took us along the edge of the southern part of the Islands, from Ward’s to Centre Island. Under a canopy of overhanging trees we kicked up the crisp leaves, channeling out inner youth. While Centreville was deserted for the season it only added to the mystic. We wandered passed the Island’s forgotten fountains and over to the Centreville bridge. Picture perfect was all I could think! The pale blue bridge against the dense, dark blue waters and surrounded by brilliant autumn foliage made it scream to be photographed. Nearing the bridge I spotted a few swans at the water’s edge and thought this must be what a fairytale feels like!
When was the last time you entered a maze? For me, I do any chance I get! I remember trying my luck at one the last time I was in Paris. And the Toronto Islands has a maze too. The William Meany Maze stood before us, with its towering cedars, we ventured in to test our skills. We laughed and giggled like school girls as we chose this way than that, only to find ourselves at another dead end. But alas, we wound our way through one last time and found success! There’s something liberating and enchanting to let yourself play as an adult. So often we’re too focused, and letting go to play and have fun is so rewarding.
One of my favourite parts of the Islands was over in Hanlan’s Point Park. There peeking out above the towering trees was a beautiful lighthouse. Surrounded by the colours of falls, and against the bright blue sky, its brilliant white bricks stood out like a beacon in a dream. And at its base stood a vibrant red door that made me feel like Alice in Wonderland. Would I fall into a Mad Hatter world if I entered?
The Gibraltar lighthouse opened in 1808 and is noted for being the oldest lighthouse on the Great Lakes in existence. It’s also one of Toronto’s oldest buildings. My friend even told me that it’s said to be haunted by an old lighthouse keeper who was sadly killed here.
We wound our way along the southwest beach, along the nudist beach. Bare, free flowing, middle-aged beach goers soaked up the unseasonably hot November sun. And all I could think is why don’t you ever see young, tight, athletic folk on a nudist beach? All the same, I admire their confidence and lack of tan lines.
Just next to the nudist beach lies the Gibraltar Point Sand Dunes. Turns out the southern shore of the Toronto Islands was once a large sand dune system. But sadly it’s been converted into parkland and recreational beaches. This now small section of protected sand dunes is home to incredible plant species that are specially adapted for this environment. Even the fence along it is created from live willow cuttings. I was delighted to find this sweeping sandy habitat here on the islands.
After we stumbled through the dunes a tree lined path took us to the end of the western side of the Toronto Islands, Hanlan’s Point. Here stood a massive statue to Edward “Ned” Hanlan, a Toronto born rower. Known as a great sportsman, he was even elected Alderman back in 1898 and 1899. The tug boat that shares the point is also named after Hanlan. But the most impressive sight here is the sweeping view of the city. Looking back at the city from Hanlan’s Point offers a breathtaking panorama of all Toronto’s iconic buildings, from the CN Tower and across the harbour front.
We’d made our way across the entire Toronto Islands, from east to west, and explored almost every nook and cranny. But alas, all adventures must end, and so we must return to Ward’s Island to catch the ferry. But first we’d have to walk the entire length of the islands again! But it was so worth it!
Just as we boarded the ferry back the sun started to set behind Toronto’s skyline. A golden hue enveloped the sky. It was a glorious end to a beautiful day.
Ferry tip – If you’re returning back to the city via Ward’s Island ferry during a school day avoid leaving around 4pm. When the kids get out of school they seem to have priority. So, either take the one before or after.
For an in depth guide to exploring nature on the Toronto Islands from check out this pdf from Toronto Parks & Rec
Have you ever explored the Toronto Islands?
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