My Toronto Island Scrapbook

Welcome to just a few of the hundreds of photos I’ve taken round and about the island.
I’ve tried to capture the essence of this unique cluster of island communities and record the diverse nature of this Toronto Park.
In choosing just a few pictures I’m not sure I’ve done justice to the artsy, folksy and whimsical ward and Algonquin island communities. You have to visit to truly imbibe the sense of peace and serenity, the summer cicadas, the autumn colours and the winter shadows on the boardwalk and beaches.
My city escape

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Cottage Country in The City – Toronto Islands

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Knocking on the front door of the downtown city core is Toronto’s secret garden – a small cluster of islands, just over a kilometer across the harbour.

Bring your visitors…

Bring your kids, your bikes, your dog, a picnic, your bathing suit or just yourself.

No Bike? – hire one at the pier on Centre Island

No picnic? – a couple of places you can buy decent nosh on the islands: see below

No swimming togs? – go visit the “clothing optional” beach on Hanlan Island!!

Whatever your “preference” this is a cliched “something for everybody” affair and large enough to swallow boatloads of visitors and residents that arrive by way of three ferry entry points – Hanlans Point (far West of Island near Airport); Centre Island (all aboard for Centreville and central beaches); and my favourites Ward and Algonquin Islands (the two easternmost communities)

Brief island genealogy:
To the east
Ward’s Island, actually the east section of the old peninsula, was named after the Ward family who first settled here about 1830. David Ward, a local fisherman, raised seven children. His son, William, built the iconic Ward’s Hotel in 1882, just south of the ferry docks at Channel Avenue. Sadly this was demolished in 1966.
By the 1880s the Ward’s Island community began as a settlement of tents which by 1913, had increased to the point where the city organized the community into street; tents gave way to small cottages which eventually evolved into a cottage community.

To the the west:
Amongst the first year-round inhabitants, were the Hanlan family who settled at Gibraltar Point in 1862. This area became a summer cottage community with John Hanlan building another hotel at what is still called Hanlan’s point on the north west tip of the island. Ned Hanlan, (John’s son) earned international repute as a world class rowing champion.

Cue Centre Island which became THE place to have your Grand Country Mansion following the relocation of the Royal Canadian Yacht Club to the north shore.
Now that this is one if the only structures visible on the Islands from Toronto Lakeshore, it’s impossible to imagine that during the late 19 century the north shore of the Islands (Both on Centre and Hanlan’s) resembled Blackpool in its heyday with these grand mansions, an amusement park and a Ball Park made famous by Babe Ruth.
Centre Island is now home to “Centreparc”and “Far Enough Farm” and is the relatively “crowded” part of the Island archipelago. Also home to a guided tram tour; formal Gardens and Waterfalls; bike, tandem and buggy hire and beaches plus a small pier. All sorts of sporting events take place off this Island plus you can hire canoes and kayaks here.

In 1915 the “rot” started when a small hanger was built at the beach by the Curtiss Flying School. This float plane aerodrome was used for flight training for World War I. In 1937 the stadium and amusement park made way for a new larger airport which also led to the displacement of the Hanlan’s Point Cottage Community, many of whom physically barged their homes round to the newly reclaimed Algonquin Island adjacent to Ward’s.

During the 1950’s the Island residential community extended from Ward’s Island to Hanlan’s Point, and was made up of some 630 cottages and homes, many of which extended along the then unprotected boardwalk (the sea wall was added later). Now only a whisper of evidence of habitation along this walkway exists (apart from a couple of existing buildings: The Rectory Hotel and the Sunrise Senior’s Home). Now you have to look really hard amongst the lush, wild vegetation for a few ragged openings and the skeletons of bygone concrete paths. At the time though this thriving community had a movie theatre, a bowling alley, stores, hotels, and dance halls which were razed to the ground around 1955 by Metropolitan Toronto Council to make way for Parkland. Since that time right up to 1993, the Islander’s have fought many battles for the survival of their communities. Now Islanders own 99 year land leases from a Land Trust. For anyone wanting to live the idyll (beware the winter season though!), be warned: these houses are not for sale on the open market and only available through the Trust. If you are interested, you will sign up to be placed at the bottom of a long line up (literally a list) of potential purchasers. When a property comes up for sale it will be offered to around 100 folk on the list with the person at the top taking priority. Islanders may only bequeath their properties to a spouse or offspring.

Favourite Places.
The Ferry Ride itself
Whether its the Hanlan’s Point, Ward Island or Centre Isle Ferry – here is a chance to view the magnificent skyline for a mere $7.00 return. The best value Ferry ride is a late ferry back from Ward’s Island as this car ferry often sails west along the shore to pick up folk from the far west of the Islands at Hanlan’s Point, so you get a 30 minute scenic ride.

The Boardwalk end of the Beach on Ward’s Island – in essence this end of a long sandy beach is like a little sheltered cove snugged up to the boardwalk with tree and rock fringed sand and an almost constant northerly breeze.

The Island Cafe – Open till 8pm in the summer months but closed during the winter; this is a family run entity opening off the Community Centre (think Bowling alley. tennis court and cute Community Hall. Serves amazing lemonade, delectable home-made deserts, and great espresso. Add to that a varied bistro-styled dining menu including house-smoked fish and an excellent selection of ice cream served either in the tiny bar area, on the patio, alfresco under a raised pergola affair or in the shady nook of the covered porch. This is the closest I’ve gotten to Cornish paint-washed casual barefoot beach- chic. Just gorgeous and worth the Ferry ride just to sit out here of an evening.

The Rectory Cafe
The shady loveliness of this “open all year round” Restaurant/Cafe (check website for details –  http://www.therectorycafe.com  is what attracts visitors to Ward and Algonquin Island. Accessible both from the road leading west from the Ward Island Ferry terminal and from the boardwalk, this has to be one of the nicest patios in Toronto

The Island Marina Cafe
A bit off the tourist route – as it is part of the workaday Island Marina just to the west of the Centre Island Ferry Point. With great views of the Lakeshore, a private tender will ferry you to and from York Quay. Beer, coffees and snacks available here for those who want to get away from Centre Island Madness.

Far Enough Farm
Love visiting the horses and animals here – you can toddle through here on the 2 km walk to Ward Island (if you feel so inclined). Unfortunately you have to run the gamut of CentreParc – and all the excited kids – to visit this but get there first thing in the morning and even that is bearable. In fairness some of the Centreparc rides are country cute and swaddled in trees and gardens so not your average amusement park

Walking around Algonquin and Ward Island’s cottage communities; exploring the tiny lane way maze that winds in and around these cottages. If you like cottage gardens, tangled foliage, quirky garden ornaments and house decor layered with spectacular glimpses of the Toronto skyline, then this is for you.

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Spend your whole summer on Toronto’s Waterfront!

Are you ready to think outside the box this summer?
Torontonians – “Everything summer” is literally on offer on a lake shore near you

Move
Cycle, skate or just walk the Martin Gooodman trail which is the Lake Ontario portion of the Great Waterfront Trail which stretches from Niagara-on-the-Lake to the Quebec border, along the shores of Lake Ontario and the Ontario portion of the St. Lawrence River.
No bike? no problem – you can use the Bixi bike system (https://toronto.bixi.com/) or hire from the rental shop under the Raddison Hotel.”Our” Martin Goodman portion of the cycle trail extends westwards past the Spadina Music Garden and Sunnyside pool, cafe and huge sandy stretch of beach, all the way along to an upfront close and personal view of the staggering “Grand Harbour at Lakeshore Boulevard” shore-front condominium complex. To the east it skirts the “Beaches” area of Toronto and sort of peters out before Scarborough bluffs
The Polson Pier complex east in the Port lands houses a couple of nightclubs – you fancy rounding off your day with some clubbing. There is also a Driving range; mini putting; a drive in movie theatre and beach volleyball and a Go Kart track

Beach
Want to sit and read a book on the beach. Again you have some choices.

Man-made beaches: you can choose an Algonquin lounger at Spadina beach or a deck chair at Sugar beach.
Cherry beach is a natural beach at the far east end of central Lakeshore – good for bathing; there is also a sailing club and it is skirted by the aforementioned Martin Goodman trail.
There is also the long expanse of boardwalked beach at Sunnyside to the west and a similarly boardwalked “Beaches” area east of the downtown core.
Eat
Try Pier 4, overlooking the Lake and the kitschiest most touristy restaurant in Toronto with its fishing nets, buoys and glass globes – so cliched, it actually works!!
Or simply watch the Lake schooners, ferries and sailboats (and the prop “Dash 8” planes flying low over the Lakeshore to and from the city airport) whilst sitting under sun umbrellas outside the restaurant on Wally MaGoos patio
Or get a different and lofty perspective and go up to the 38th floor to La Toula in the Westin’s circular but non-revolving restaurant jutting out across the Lake. Don’t expect much by way of food – seriously – just a great view.
Within the huge and glamourous Queens Quay centre adjacent to the tourist boat pier are 3 Waterfront restaurants – Bar Milano, the Waterfront Irish pub and W. On the 2nd floor there is a massive and old-established Chinese restaurant called Pearl with floor to ceiling views over the harbor and next to a small food court where you can sit on the verandah and watch the ferries ply to and from Toronto Island. The centre also houses speciality shops, gelato and coffee shops and exhibits plus you can purchase picnic food from Sobeys.
At Sugar Beach there is also “Against the Grain”
Tour
Countless options available – The Toronto sky-line is getting ever more spectacular and still topped by the streamlined and strikingly elegant CN Tower which at night is candy-cane bright with all the colours of the rainbow.
Sail on a Tall ship such as the Kajama
Stroll down to York Quay and you will find about 10 different styles of tour boat – paddle steamer; dine and tour options; the ubiquitous party boat and of course the cheapest of all -ride a Toronto Ferry back and forth.
The “Duck” also plys the Lakeshore, stopping off at Ontario PLace for a plunge into the harbour
Look out for the red jump on- jump off, double decker bus tours that stop off at various points along Lakeshore.
Learn
To sail, canoe or kayak at Harbourfront’s boating schools on Rees way – Trust me, nothing better on a summer’s evening than messing around in watercraft on the Lake; seeing the shore-line from a different perspective and watching the dying rays of the sunset alternately reflect from, and pick out in relief the massive glass and steel condo structures strung around the shoreline and clustering northwards into the city core.
You can also sign up for glass/ pottery and various other craft classes at the working studios flanking the Harbourfront centre.
Art
Visit the exhibits in the Power Plant (also part if the massive “Enwave” theatre complex)) which is currently hosting its ” World Stage” exhibition. The Harbourfront centre also has a large and ever changing display of art.For info on current exhibitions and events go to http://www.harbourfrontcentre.com/
Performance
Throughout the summer, music and cultural performances/shows are staged at “The West Jet” open-air stage right on the quay. Free movies are often screened here from summer to summer depending upon funding.
A wonderful menu of every type of music imagineable is available on given evenings and weekends at Spadina Music Gardens to the west of the main Lakeshore drag. Google Spadina Music Gardens for more info on this
Escape
But hey, I hear you say ” I really do need to get out of the city and go to the cottage. So here’s the thing – even your “country in the city escape” is here too!
No need to spend hours traveling up and down to traditional cottage country when you have the fabulous Toronto Islands a ferry ride away. You can even stay at a bed & breakfast on the island or have a few days retreat at the Retreat Centre or at the Artscape Lodge (both centres are near Hanlans point west of the island)
Once again Lakeshore is the launchpad for the Toronto Island’s ferries which will take you to 3 points on the islands depending upon your mood.Do you want to rent a bike and cycle along boardwalk? Or use the beach by the pier or take the kids to Centre Park for some fun? – if so take the Centre Island Ferry.
Are you taking your bike over and want to explore the cute Island houses spanning both Algonquin and Ward island with their secret gardens and tiny laneways lining the shore and nestled amongst the trees? Best view of Toronto skyline from this perspective. The yacht club is also at this end. Then catch the Ward island Ferry.Or, you are inclined towards lush park land, white sandy beaches (including a nudist beach), the Retreats mentioned above and on Labour Day weekend a grandstand view of the Air show – then take the Ferry to Hanlans PointWorth a separate blog this……
Over and Out