The Toronto Islands are essentially the remnants of an ancient sandbar that projects into Lake Ontario, creating Toronto Harbour. According to historical descriptions the islands were only born as recently as the 1850's when a storm severed the sandbar at what is now known as the Eastern Gap just east of Ward's Island.
A long outer island, technically known as Centre Island, forms the enclosure for Toronto Harbour. Several smaller islands cluster to the north of the outer island. It is on Centre Island that all of this guide's activities take place.
Public ferries ply the waters of Toronto Harbour from a central "city-side" terminal located just south of the intersection of Bay Street & Queens Quay West. The ferries head to three destinations on the Toronto Islands: Ward's Island dock (not an actual island) at the east end of Centre Island; Hanlan's Point dock at the west end of Centre Island; and Centre Island dock, which is actually located on Middle Island but leads to the pier at the center of Centre Island.
The Islands were once a bustling and populated summer colony of the city, complete with hotels, amusement parks, shops and other tourist amenities, plus block after block of cottages that extended all the way from Hanlan's Point to the still remaining Ward's Island community. An active program of expropriation and demolition in the 1950's & 60's with the aim of creating acres of open parkland destroyed all cottages but those at Ward's Island and the nearby Algonquin Island. A protracted fight by their residents finally led to their stay of execution in the early 1990's. Today the Toronto Islands are a great mix of hidden naturalized land, traditional open parks, manicured and wild beaches, and the two enclaves of charming cottages lining sidewalk "streets".
Getting to the Ferry Docks: Departures to & arrivals from the Toronto Islands utilize the Toronto Ferry Docks, located behind the Westin Harbour Castle hotel at the foot of Bay Street where it meets Queens Quay West. To reach the Ferry Docks take the #509 or #510 streetcar from Union Station, disembarking at the Queens Quay Station stop, or the #6 Bay Street bus southbound. Cross to the south side of Queens Quay W & follow the crowds.
Getting to the Islands: There are 3 ferry routes from downtown to the Toronto Islands. Your fare allows you to travel TO ANY of the three, and return FROM ANY of the three. At the time of writing, the return fares are as follows: adult $6.50; student & seniors $4.00; junior (2- 14) $3.00; children under 2 are free. Check for updates here: http://www.toronto.ca/parks/island/ferry-schedule.htm
This guide makes use of the Ward's Island (easterly) and Hanlan's Point (westerly) routes. The third, and arguably most popular, is the Centre Island run. We have chosen not to suggest it so as to provide a more circular tour. All gates are well signed within the downtown ferry docks departure area.
This guide outlines a half day tour. The sequence presented suggests a lunch stop fairly early into the tour. It could be done in reverse as a morning tour with lunch near the end. If you wished to spend time on one of the beaches the tour could easily be extended to a full day visit.
Beaches: There is a beach at Ward's Island (young/ hipster), Centre Island Pier (family), Gibraltar Point (uncrowded), and Hanlan's Point (alternative/ clothing optional/ gay). All are International Blue Flag rated for water quality.
Conditions: The terrain is flat & comfortable. The tour as outlined is about 4.5 miles/ 7 kilometers long not including the distances covered by ferries. Public cars are not permitted on the islands so there is next to no motorized traffic (some service vehicles). Roads & paths (which are asphalt) are shared with bicycles though, so do as your mother said & look both ways before stepping onto a road or path. If you are visiting in summer it is recommended to wear plenty of sun screen, a hat, etc., and bring or stop frequently for water. If you are visiting in early spring, late fall, or winter keep in mind that the islands are more exposed to Lake Ontario's weather conditions than in the city. (it is normal for leaves to come out at least a week later on the islands that in town) Dress accordingly!
Seeing the Islands by bicycle: Bicycle rentals are available at the Centre Island concessions (Point of Interest #6). If you prefer to use this guide for a bicycle- based tour, take the ferry from downtown to Centre Island and follow the road to the pier where you will be able to pick up a bike. From there branch east or west and visit all the sites outlined in the guide. After returning your bike, retrace your steps to the Centre Island ferry dock.
Facilities: There are washroom facilities and drinking fountains available at the downtown ferry docks, and scattered fairly generously throughout the island park. Refer to the individual Points of Interest for more detailed directions.