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November 19th, 2017
Beaches Living Guide Fall/Winter 2016

Toronto Islands

Toronto Harbour
Ferry Boat: Foot of Bay Street
1858, when the peninsula separated from mainland to become the main island

Fun Fact:
The legendary baseball player Babe Ruth, hit his first major league home run at Toronto’s baseball stadium, originally located on the Toronto Islands.

 

Full View of the City

For Torontonians and visitors alike, Toronto Islands is the place to go, especially on a hot summer day. Where else can you enjoy a ferry ride on the lake, ride your bike, go for a picnic, play on the beach, swim, watch fireworks, see an incredible view of Toronto’s skyline and even visit Toronto’s only official nude beach. With more than 2 million visitors each year, Toronto Islands, a chain of 15 islands, is one of the city’s favourite go to place.

Not Always Islands

The Toronto Islands once was a series of floating sandbars carried westward from the Scarborough Bluffs by currents in Lake Ontario. One of the sandbars grew to be over 5 miles long. Early settlers named it “Island of Hiawatha”, even though it was still connected to the mainland. There was a hotel that opened in 1833 to accommodate tourists during the summer to swim, fish and picnic, and ice fish in winter. Today you can still walk part of the route, following the boardwalk on Centre Island to the original Gibraltar Point Lighthouse.

In 1852 a storm flooded sand pits on the peninsula, to the west became known as today’s Toronto Islands. When Canada was formed in 1867, the islands were transferred to the City of Toronto, which divided the land into lots and allowed cottages, amusement areas and resort hotels to be built.

Centre, Ward’s and Hanlan’s Point

There are 3 main islands, the largest island being Centre Island. The second largest, Ward’s Island, named after a local fisherman, David Ward, who settled there in 1830 and raised 7 children on the then-peninsula. The smallest of the three, Hanlan’s Point, was named for the first year-round residents, the Hanlan family, which settled on Gibraltar Point in 1862.

Hanlan’s Point became the “Coney Island of Canada” – a kind of summer suburb of the city in the late 1800s, with many small cottages as well as large Victorian summer homes. To amuse its many summer guests, Hanlan’s Point hosted a vaudeville theatre, dance halls, a large amusement park, and a baseball and lacrosse stadium until the Island Airport was opened on the site in 1939.

Island Life all year round

The millions of visitors each year to the islands continue to enjoy family fun on Centre Island where there’s an old-fashioned amusement park and fabulous maze. School groups attend a week-long camp at the Island Science School, and those who enjoy birds and wildlife can get a rich experience finding many species that thrive on the island. Ward’s Island is still an idyllic residential community and Hanlan’s point is now home to the Billy Bishop Airport.

When the harbour freezes in the winter, many residents lace up their skates and cross on the ice! The city also has an urban ice breaker ferry, the William Lyon Mackenzie, that cuts through the frozen waters.

Travelling to the Islands: Historic Island Ferry Boats

The ferries that take the 10 minute trip to the Toronto Islands year round continue to remind us of their historic connection to Toronto’s past. In the early days, horse-powered ferries carried folks across the harbour; followed by a variety of paddle steamers. Today, trips to the island are made via diesel boats built between 1935 and 1960. In fact, one of the early ferries, the 103-year old Trillium, still does the run across the harbour to this day – giving travellers a superb view of the skyline.

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