Today’s post is 1190 words, 26 photos, a 6 minute read. Enjoy!
This week I’ll take you on a walk around the Toronto Islands, also known as Toronto Island Park. The islands are a chain of 15 small islands in Lake Ontario connected by bridges and footpaths located just offshore from the city of Toronto. The islands also serve as protection from winds and storms for the Toronto Harbor. At the western end of the chain of islands is the regional airport. Ward’s Island is on the eastern end. In between are marinas, boat rentals, an amusement park, playgrounds, picnic areas, beaches, a boardwalk, a haunted lighthouse, a residential area, and even a clothing optional beach.
It was mid-morning when the Friendship Force Madison and our hosts, Friendship Force Toronto, met at the Jack Layton Ferry Terminal. As we waited for everyone to arrive, we learned a little about Jack Layton. He was a Member of Parliament and leader of the opposition, representing Toronto until his death from cancer in 2011. He also served on the Toronto City Council and at times served as acting or deputy mayor. By all accounts, he was quite an interesting and popular fellow. His wife, Olivia Chow, was recently elected mayor of Toronto.
Soon it was time to board the ferry for the thirteen minute ride across the Toronto Harbour to the Centre Island Ferry Dock.
I should point out that the view of downtown Toronto from the ferry and the island is stunning. As you can see in the photo below, the CN Tower dominates the skyline with the Rogers Centre dome visible on the left side of the photo. You’ll note that the sky is hazy from the smoke due to the wildfires in western Canada.
A Very Short History
Once considered sacred lands by the Ojibwa/Mississaugas First Nations people, the Toronto Islands were sold to the British Government in the late 1700s. A fort was constructed and later abandoned. The Gibraltar Point Lighthouse was built on the southwest corner of the islands in the early 1800s and still stands today. It is said to be haunted by the ghost of the first light keeper who was murdered.
The City of Toronto acquired the islands from the federal government in the mid-1800s. They soon became a destination for the people of Toronto. Summer cottages, a hotel, and notable families build year-round houses on the islands. The Yacht Club moved to the island, a school was organized, and a baseball stadium built where it’s said that Babe Ruth hit his first professional home run in 1914. During the summers, a city of tent campers arose that eventually gave way to small cottages.
After World War II, the Toronto City Council and Metro Parks department wanted to make the islands into park land and began to demolish homes whose long-term land leases had expired. While the big homes were gone, resistance to the eviction of the remaining 300 cottages ensued with a legal battle lasting for over 30 years. It was settled when those who remained (mostly on Ward’s Island, and some on Algonquin Island) were granted deeds to their houses and a 99 year lease on the land. If the house cannot pass to a surviving spouse or child, it can be sold in a lottery conducted from a list of interested buyers for a set price, no negotiations. It’s interesting to note that only 12 acres of the 820 acre park are occupied by homes. Here’s a photo of one of the cute, little cottage type homes. There are no car bridges, thus no cars and no streets, just walking lanes between houses. It has a very nice feel, laid-back and peaceful. I’d live there.
There were beautiful flowers and well-kept gardens as we walked though the rows of cottages.
The Islands has a church, a senior center, and a clubhouse with a beautiful mosaic in the courtyard. There are a few restaurants and bars as well as a couple of snack bars for visitors to the park grounds. There was even a Subway at the amusement park!
There is a BeaverTail concession on the islands near the amusement park. BeaverTails are a uniquely Canadian food. They are fried pastries made into a shape of a beaver’s tail (long and wide) and filled with various toppings. Take it from me, they are delicious and quite filling.
After debarking from the ferry, our adventure began. Small teams were formed with members of both clubs on each team. We were given a map of the islands and a list of questions to answer as we made our way around the islands. We were told there would be valuable prizes awarded at the end of the scavenger hunt.
Our hunt for answers took us past the Yacht Club, the petting zoo at Far Enough Farm, the long pier that juts outs into Lake Ontario, and along the pleasant mile-long boardwalk along the lakeside of the islands.
We crossed one of the many bridges that connect the islands and saw this swan taking a siesta near a pond. Then around the corner we saw a whole fleet of look-alike swans ready to move out. What I couldn’t figure out is why they didn’t line up in numerical order. It looks like they tried but couldn’t get cooperation by some of the errant swans!
The one place we didn’t go to was the Clothing Optional Beach to see what was there. We were left wondering!
As I mentioned earlier in this post, the Toronto skyline would appear from time to time. I couldn’t resist taking another photo, it was so picturesque.
The Canadians are proud of their National Flag, unofficially called the maple leaf flag. Did you know that until 1965, Canada didn’t have a flag of its own? It was February 15th of that year when the maple leaf flag was adopted replacing the Union Jack, the national flag of the United Kingdom. Every province in Canada has its own flag and coat-of-arms.
It was mid-afternoon when we met up with the rest of the Friendship Force members at Bruce’s house. Bruce is a member of the Toronto Friendship Force Club and a resident of Ward’s Island. He’s a retired nurse and provides medical care for Islanders in need. He is well versed on the history of Islands and plays the piano with gusto. It was a fitting and relaxing end to a wonderful day. Should you find yourself in Toronto for business or pleasure, consider making the short ferry ride across the harbor to the Toronto Islands for a relaxing walk. You’ll be glad you did.
We headed back to Toronto, by ferry of course and ended the evening with a wonderful farewell dinner. The winners of the scavenger hunt were announced at the dinner, our team won by a mere five points! We took home a bigger than life, chocolate “twoonie,” a replica of the Canadian two dollar coin.
Well folks, that does it for this week. Join me next week for another post from Toronto.
Until then, happy travels!