The Toronto Islands (also known as the Toronto Island Park) are an island community that is a popular summertime daytrip for Torontonians who want to get away from the hustle of the city. They provide a spectacular view of Toronto's impressive skyline, and with no cars allowed, the area a favourite for cyclists, walkers and rollerblade enthusiasts. The many lagoons and waterways are populated by ducks and swans, and some areas are off-limits to people, designated as “wilderness zones” for migratory birds. Their charm extends to the residential neighbourhoods, year-round home to some 250 families, containing cottages from the 1920s and featuring English-style gardens.
There are three major islands, eight islands with names and several without names. Despite its name, Ward's Island is not an island but a peninsula of Centre Island, the main island. To add to the confusion, Centre Island Park is on Middle Island rather than Centre Island.
Each island has its own atmosphere, with Centre Island—which features huge picnic areas, an amusement park, greenspace, a maze, a beach, a chapel and award-winning gardens—the most popular.
The island ferries are on a very reduced winter schedule from about late October to about mid-April. With the winter schedule, only the ferry to Ward's Island operates. Expect no eateries to be open in winter on the island.
The shoulder season is from about mid-April to the Victoria Day weekend (in late May), and from after Labour Day to about late October. The ferries service all 3 terminals on the island but not as frequently as in summer. The only eating establishments open may be the Riviera (former Rectory Cafe) and perhaps a Pizza Pizza stand at Centre Island. Bicycle rentals are available from May to September. However, as the month of May progresses, more establishments start opening mostly near the Centre Island ferry terminal.
Access to the islands is only via ferry, taxi or private yacht, and there is no access between the Toronto Island Airport and the rest of the Toronto Islands.
- 1 Jack Layton Ferry Terminal (Toronto Island Ferry Docks Terminal), Toronto Ferry Docks (at the foot of Bay Street and Queens Quay; 509 or 510 streetcar to Queens Quay Ferry Docks Terminal.). All ferries to the islands depart from the Jack Layton Ferry Terminal. From the mainland Ferry Docks, there are three destinations on the islands. During peak hours, it usually will take between 15 and 90 minutes just to buy ferry tickets. It may be quicker to buy tickets online instead. Return fare: $7.71 adults, $5.05 students/seniors, $3.72 children; no extra charge for bicycles; TTC fares/passes not accepted.
- Ferries sound a very loud horn just prior to leaving the dock. If you are very close to the ferry slip, you may have a running chance of catching the ferry once the horn sounds. The loud ferry horn may startle some people, but consider it part of the ferry trip experience.
- 2 Centre Island Ferry Docks, Avenue of the Island. No winter service; last ferry leaves the island at 11:45 pm in summer. This is the most popular island destination and its dock has the most frequent ferry service. The Centre Island docks are actually on Middle Island. Taking the ferry back at sunset offers a spectacular view.
- 3 Ward's Island Ferry Docks, Bayview Ave (not the same as Bayview Ave on the mainland). Year-round service. The small cottage community on Algonquin Island and at Ward's Island uses this route year-round. Ward's Island is not an island per se but rather the eastern-most peninsula of Centre Island.
- 4 Hanlan's Point Ferry Docks. No scheduled winter service. The western-most docks on Centre Island. In the shoulder season, the last ferry leaves in late afternoon. If you miss it, you need to take a water taxi to the mainland, or walk to the Centre Island ferry dock (4km).
- 5 Toronto Harbour Water Taxi (York Street Slip), ☏ . is a more expensive alternative to the ferries.
Walking is the main means of getting around on the islands. The distance between the Hanlan's Point and Ward's Island ferry docks is about 6 km (3.7 mi) or about 90 minutes on foot, but this excludes any detour to visit the Centre Island Park on Middle Island.
Bicycle Rentals are available on Centre Island south of the Centre Island Ferry docks.
In summer, there is a Tram Tour (really a tractor train).
- 1 Boardwalk, Lakeshore Ave (from Ward's Island Beach to the intersection with Cibola Ave). Most of the eastern section of Lakeshore Ave is on a boardwalk over 1 km (0.62 mi) long along the lake's edge. You may see boats entering and leaving Toronto Harbour via the Eastern Gap. On the inland side, between the trees and bushes, you may see short walkways leading to cottages long since demolished; the island community was once much larger.
- 2 Cherry tree blossoms (southern end of Avenue of the Island near the fountain). Japanese cherry trees were planted in 2011 near the fountain at the south side of the bridge to Centreville. The trees bloom in late April or early May (depending on weather) and blooming lasts for only one or two weeks. There is a web page to find more precise information about when cherry trees bloom in Toronto.
- 3 Far Enough Farm, 21 Avenue Of The Islands East (east side of the Centreville Amusement Park). Open year-round. A petting farm with over 40 different species of farmyard animals and exotic birds. Free admission.
- 4 Gibraltar Point Lighthouse, Lakeshore Avenue (western half of Centre Island). Gibraltar Point lighthouse has stood since 1808 and quickly became home to one of Toronto’s oldest mysteries when, in 1815, its first keeper, J.P. Radan Muller, disappeared. A subsequent lighthouse keeper found skeletal remains years later. Believed to have been beaten to death by soldiers from nearby Fort York, Muller is said to haunt the lighthouse, as a plaque on the grounds will attest to.
- 5 Ned Hanlan statue and tugboat (Hanlan's Point ferry dock). Monument to champion rower Ned Hanlan (1855-1908) plus a 1902 tugboat named in his honour, now mounted on a pedestal.
- 6 Olympic Island (just east of the Centre Island Ferry Docks). Olympic island offers great views of the Toronto skyline. The island also is home to the Lagoon theatre and has a large field for picnics and BBQ.
- 7 St. Andrew's by the Lake Church, 102 Lakeshore Avenue (north of the intersection of Cibola Ave and Lakeshore Ave), ☏ . St. Andrew-by-the-Lake is an Anglican church serving the islands' residents and visitors. This cute church of semi-Gothic/Medieval style was built in 1884.
- 8 Toronto Fire Station 335, 235 Cibola Ave (west of Ward's Island). Active fire station; interior not open to public. Although built in 1995, this fire hall has a quaint old-fashioned look.
- 9 Toronto Centre Island Pier, at the foot of Avenue of the Island (directly across the island from the Centre Island Ferry Dock). View of the CN Tower from the lake. View of boats on the lake.
- Toronto Island Community. This is one of Toronto's oldest residential communities. Island residents own their homes but lease the land. The small picturesque cottage-style homes sport some beautiful gardens and more cats per square metre anywhere, except possibly the Coliseum in Rome. There island community is clustered in two areas as follows:
- 10 Ward's Island (NE of Ward's Island Ferry Docks). Ward's Island offers views of the eastern side of the harbour which is more industrial on the other side of the water.
- 11 Algonquin Island (west of Ward's Island Ferry Docks). There is a footbridge connecting Centre Island to Algonquin Island. The north side of the island has great views of the Toronto skyline.
- 1 Centre Island Beach, 1 Avenue of the Island (straddling Lookout Pier on the south-centre side of Centre Island). Main beach on the island.
- 2 Gibraltar Point Beach, Lakeshore Avenue (just east of the Artscape Gibralter Point building). A quieter beach according to a blog.
- 3 Hanlan's Point Beach (east of Hanlan's Point on the south side of Centre Island). Hanlan's Point Beach is the only officially recognised clothing-optional beach in the City of Toronto. It was first approved as clothing-optional in 1894 but this approval was repealed in 1930 due to the protests of citizen's groups. The official status was restored in 2002 following a three year pilot project.
- 4 Ward's Island Beach, Lakeshore Ave (SE of the Ward's Island Ferry Docks).
- 5 Centreville Amusement Park. Open at 10:30am June to Labour Day and all weekends in May and September. An amusement park geared towards families with young kids, it has some 30 rides, an antique carousel, a petting zoo featuring farm animals and pony rides, and picturesque swan boats circling a small lagoon. Free admission to park grounds but charges for rides.
- 6 Antique Carousel (N/W corner of Centreville). The Antique Carousel was built by the Dentzel Company in 1907 and is one of only 125 of its type still operating. The 52 animals used on the ride are all hand-carved.
- 7 Franklin Children's Gardens (North of the intersection of Lakeshore Ave and The Mall). A themed garden based on characters from "Franklin the Turtle" stories, it contains many bronze statues of Franklin's friends, many plants, a turtle pond, small benches and paths for kids to explore.
- 8 Toronto Island Bicycle Rental, Lakeshore Ave, Centre Island (south of the Centre Island Ferry Docks), ☏ . Traditional bicycles are $8 for the first hour, they also offer two and four seat options. Open only during the summer months. Cash only.
- Toronto Island Garden Tour, Ward's Island (At the gazebo next to the Ward's Island Ferry Docks). This is an annual event held on a weekend in June to tour the beautiful gardens maintained by the Island Community. See the website for details. Even if you can't attend the tour, many gardens are in the front yard of cottages and are easily viewed from public walkways. Adults $10, Seniors $8, Children $2.
- 9 Toronto Island Tram Tours, Avenue of the Island (departs regularly from the south side of the Manitou Island Bridge). Daily in summer, week-ends in late spring/early fall, from noon to 6 or 7pm. 35-minute guided tour of Centre Island and Hanlan's Point operated by Toronto Parks and Recreation. The "tram" is really a rubber-tire tractor train. Adult $9, senior/student $6.50, child $5.
- 10 William Meany Maze, Avenue of the Island (West of Avenue of the Island, south of bridge from Centreville). Revived by the namesake, Mississauga businessman William Meany. Meany has always enjoyed this maze as a child and he donated $200,000 towards the revival of the maze. The maze is built with fences between small evergreen trees to prevent shortcuts.
Despite the presence of the island community, there are no shopping opportunities on the Toronto Islands.
- 1 Carousel Café, Centreville Theme Park (south side of Centreville just east of a bridge), ☏ . Closed in winter. Patio restaurant by a water channel. Licensed to serve alcoholic beverages.
- 2 Island Cafe, 20 Withrow Street, Ward's Island (in the park opposite the Ward's Island Ferry Docks), ☏ . Sun-Thu 8am-9pm, Fri&Sat 8am-10pm; closed in winter. Light, local fare, plus live music & game nights. Licensed to serve alcoholic beverages.
- 3 The Riviera ~ Ward's Island Kitchen (formerly: Rectory Cafe), 102 Lakeshore Ave (Ward's Island), ☏ . noon-10PM, summer 11AM-11PM; kitchen closes 2 hours earlier; possibly closed in winter. Lovely place to eat outside in the summer time. Licensed to serve alcoholic beverages.
- 4 Pizza Pizza (A few steps west of Centre Island Ferry Docks). May–September. On weekdays in early May, this pizza kiosk may be the only eatery open between the Centre Island and Hanlan's Point ferry docks.
- 5 Toronto Island BBQ & Beer Co., 17 Avenue of the Island (south of the amusement park in Centreville), ☏ . Closed in winter. Waterfront eatery offers BBQ, burgers & brews, plus a patio & city views. Licensed to serve alcoholic beverages.
Besides restaurants in Centreville and at Ward's Island, here are patios licensed to serve alcoholic beverages.
- 1 The Beach House (SE corner of Avenue of the Island & Lakeshore Ave). Summer only. Patio offering alcoholic beverages.
- 2 Hanlan`s (Next to Hanlan`s Point ferry dock). Summer only. Patio offering alcoholic beverages.
- 3 The Mermaid Cafe, Lakeshore Avenue (About 800 metres south of Hanlan`s Point fery dock). Summer only. Patio offering alcoholic beverages.
- Some residents of the Toronto Island Community offer "Bed and Breakfast" accommodation; expect to pay around $150-$200 per night.
There are three winter washrooms open to the public year-round:
- 6 Ward's Island Washrooms, Lakeshore Ave (about 300 metres east of Ward's Island ferry dock).
- 7 Center Island Winter Washrooms, 1 The Mall (400 metres N/W of Centre Island Pier).
- 8 Hanlons Point Ferry Unisex W/C, 760 Lakeshore Ave (near Hanlan's Point ferry docks).
Other public washrooms are closed during winter. More washrooms are open in the warmer months especially in summer.
There is no post office outlet and probably no establishments offering free WiFi on the islands. It's best that you wait until you are back on the mainland to "connect".