It is a different world on the Toronto Islands in winter with the animals at Far Enough Farm looking for visitors and skaters gracing the frozen canals, some playing a pickup game of hockey. The quaint cottage communities on Ward’s and Algonquin Islands are draped in a coating of snow with cats patrolling the laneways. Also the snow crunches as you walk along the boardwalk glancing at the ducks and distant lighthouse across Lake Ontario. The parkland is peaceful with footprints in the snow from the various walking groups and local dog walkers. So bring the whole family, this may be the best time of year to visit!
The Toronto Island ferry departs from the Jack Layton docks at the foot of Bay Street, a short walk from Union Station. In winter the ferry travels to Wards Island only from around 6:35 a.m. until 11:35 p.m., with a different schedule on Sundays and holidays. In winter there is a heated waiting room with washrooms available at the dock.
On the short ride of about 10 minutes you can stand on the deck or go into one of the two heated waiting rooms where you can sit and watch through the windows at the action on Toronto harbour. Feel free to roll your bike onto the ferry if you are planning on cycling.
It is special when there is ice in the harbour as the ferry crushes through this thin layer making a cracking noise. The views from the deck of the ferry are impressive as you approach the low laying islands. Looking behind you there is the city skyline including the CN Tower. On a recent journey a Porter Airlines flight flew low overhead on its way to landing at the island airport located at Hanlan’s Point on the western tip.
Things to do on the Islands in Winter
Skating – weather permitting, go skating on the canals noting where the knowledgable local residents go as there could be open water in a few sections. The residents frequently will bike over to the best spots to skate just leaving them along the shore.
Be active – cross country ski or snowshoe across the parklands. The distance from Ward’s Island to Hanlan’s Point is 5.25 km one way. Many cyclists also bring their bikes on the ferry and not only cycle across the islands but around the laneways of Ward’s and Algonquin Islands, after all that is how the residents get around as there are no cars.
Go on a walking tour – visit the cottage communities, Far Enough Farm to see the animals, walk the boardwalk and out on the pier stretching out into Lake Ontario. And you may also wish see Gibraltar Lighthouse.
Relax – enjoy a coffee and dessert at the comfy Rectory Cafe.
Note: if walking with your dog just keep in mind that there are coyotes in the area near Gibraltar Lighthouse.
Winter Walking Tour of Toronto Islands
This brief walking tour takes about 3 1/2 hours and is 9 kilometres long including break for a snack and time spent seeing the animals.
Start from the ferry dock by heading to your left towards Ward’s Island and walk up the lanes looking at all the interesting cottages and odds and ends scattered throughout the yards. The homes are close to the walkways and each other. Their are heated washrooms located at the south end near the playing fields.
Head west from the washrooms and you will see one of the beaches with probably a few dog walkers along the shore. Turn right and head to the road and over the bridge to Algonquin Island. On arrival you will see a wagon where residents trade items they no longer need, but you can walk to the left passing the houseboats parked along the shores of the canals and skaters too. Visit the lanes of this community with larger homes still packed with interesting odds and ends on their yards. There are splendid views of the Toronto waterfront as well.
Return back across the bridge and continue straight passing the Rectory Cafe on your left until reaching the Boardwalk. Turn right and continue along the entire length looking out over the lake and nearby Leslie Street Spit with its lighthouse. When you reach the end continue along the road until arriving at the pier which juts out into Lake Ontario. In summer this is where you can rent bicycles.
Coming off the pier head straight towards Centre Island. Heated washrooms are located on your left as in the course for boar races. Cross the bridge and walk immediately to your right passing the closed restaurant to Far Enough Farm. Circle through the farm and exit via Centreville Amusement Park which is a ghost town in winter.
Speaking of ghosts you can add extra distance by heading further west to the lighthouse. However I usually take the walkway to the left passing the boat rental outlet and St. Andrews by the Lake Church. You will again be following one the canals where you are sure to see skaters before arriving by at the Ferry docks.
Click the link to check out other hiking opportunities in Toronto.First time visitors to the Toronto Islands in Winter are always surprised at what a great experience a visit is at this time of year.