Average Commute Time
The Housing Market
What You’ll Love
What Not To Expect
Many people think Toronto Islands is just a place to go for a picnic on the beach. The truth is there’s so much more to do, from boating and cycling to visiting amusement parks and eating out with friends and family. There’s a thriving residential community on the islands and a well-established artistic facility at the Artscape Gibraltar Point. Toronto Islands is also where musical artists come to perform at various venues. It doesn’t matter if you’re a tourist from abroad or from the City of Toronto, there’s plenty to learn and discover at Toronto Islands.
The islands were originally a group of sandbars created by the deteriorating Scarborough Bluffs and pushed away by the tide of Lake Ontario. In 1792, the British Navy surveyed the sandbars, naming the main peninsula the “Island of Hiawatha.” This name came from the local Indigenous populations who already knew about the islands. The islands served as a naval base for a few decades until invading Americans destroyed the fortifications in the War of 1812, which they lost. Since that time the islands were occupied by residential communities. Ward’s Island is a community on the eastern edge of the archipelago and is named after David Ward who settled there with his family in 1834.
There are 262 homes on the Toronto Islands. This makes it one of Toronto’s most difficult real estate markets to enter. Most of the homes are simple wood-frame structures built around the 1930s. Light building materials were imperative for construction on the islands as they had to be transported from the mainland. In 1993, Ontario Premier Bob Rae passed an act stating that houses on Toronto Islands may only be transferred to the current owner’s child or spouse. After the 1950s, different architects played a part in designing unique picnic and recreational areas for the islands.
Things to Do in Toronto Island
Arts & Culture
There is a thriving artistic community in Toronto Islands. One of these communities is Artscape Gibraltar Point. Since 1999, this former school is now a year-round arts and cultural facility. The organization hosts artists from Toronto and around the world who make use of the islands’ quiet and natural settings to focus on their projects in short-term residencies and long-term studio rentals. Toronto Islands is a place where Canadian and International artists come to perform concerts. Some artists who have performed at different venues include Joni Mitchell, The Killers, The Smashing Pumpkins, and Pavement.
Retail shopping is in short supply on the islands, but there are many places you can rent bikes and recreational water vehicles. Toronto Island Bicycle Rental is open starting May 22. This is where you can rent a bicycle, tandem bike, or a quadricycle to travel around the islands by yourself or with friends. Don’t forget to pick up your helmet! The Boat House is where you can rent boats for paddling in and around the islands. Visitors have the option of renting canoes that hold three adults or two adults and two children. There are also single and double kayaks for rent.
Restaurants & Dining
Restaurants are dispersed among the different commercial areas in Toronto Islands. One of the first things you’ll see after arriving by ferry is Toronto Island BBQ & Beer Co. This establishment offers standard BBQ meals such as hamburgers, ribs, sausages, and wings, along with an extensive beer menu. On Centre Island, you will find The Island Greek Grill serving classic Mediterranean dishes like souvlaki and pita. On the way to Ward’s Island, you might stop by The Riviera, a simple eatery serving tourists and the nearby local community.
Most of Toronto Islands is dedicated parkland with trails and paths for biking, walking, and general exploration. Starting from the west side of Centre Island there is Hanlan’s Point Beach, a sandy beach with public washrooms nearby and a clothing-optional section. There are also six public tennis courts next to this beach. Moving east along Centre Island you can stop by Gibraltar Point to swim, or you can visit the lighthouse built in the 19th century by following a footpath northward. Centre Island Beach is farther east of here and is marked by the Centre Island Pier, a concrete jetty with a scenic observation deck.
Toronto Islands is a recreational hub with facilities where you can rent bicycles, kayaks, and canoes. The paths and roads are mostly flat, making it a leisurely afternoon cycle around the islands. There are many smaller islands between the mainland formations. These are perfect for small adventures paddling in peaceful waters. Families also love taking their kids to the Centreville Amusement Park. This quaint park has over 30 rides and an antique carousel from 1907. Toronto Islands also has several yacht clubs and fishing piers where you can enjoy private launches to start your recreational aquatic expedition.
Transit & Commute Times
Driving is uncommon in the Toronto Islands neighbourhood, so people with cars normally park on the mainland and take a ferry from the Jack Layton Ferry Terminal in Harbourfront or the base of Centre Island. There are three ferry docks you can arrive at — Hanlan’s Point, Centre Island, and Ward’s Island. If you’re living in downtown Toronto the commute will take around half an hour, ferry ride included. Once you’re in the Toronto Islands it takes around 15 minutes to ride a bike from the east to west coasts.
Ahoy There, Matey
The magic of the Toronto Islands is undeniable. Starting with a ferry ride you’ll be entranced by the beautiful and lush greenery as you approach. Once you get there, there’s no shortage of things to do. Maybe you’ll rent a bike and travel around the whole area or hop into a kayak to circumnavigate one of the smaller islands. If you’re with your young family, you’ll have a blast at the amusement park, or possibly walking through the many gardens on Centre Island. It’s a tough place to buy a property, but maybe you can luck into one of them. In the meantime, enjoy the humble majesty of the Toronto Islands.
Frequently Asked Questions
What is Toronto Islands known for?
This is one of Toronto’s most popular tourist and recreational destinations. You can rent bicycles, boats, paddleboards, swim on the beach, or visit the quaint amusement park.
Why is it called Toronto Islands?
Some believe the name “Toronto” comes from these islands. In the language of the Mississauga tribe, “Toronto” means trees standing in water. This is a common sight in Toronto Islands each year when the water rises and only trees emerge from the flood plain.