Toronto Island Park is so near, yet so far from the hustle and bustle of Canada’s largest city.
An archipelago of small, partially wooded islands connected by footbridges, the park is a few kilometres from the downtown core and one of the finest recreational areas in Ontario. Once you’re in the thick of it, cycling along the boardwalk adjacent to Lake Ontario, exploring its meadows, or relaxing on one of its fine sandy beaches, urban Toronto seems almost like a distant memory.
On a bright sunny afternoon recently, my daughter and I spent a couple of hours on the islands. Lining up at the Jack Layton Terminal to board a ferry heading to the Hanlan’s Point dock, we waited about 15 minutes to buy our tickets. A word of advice: Order online and avoid the queue.
As the boat roared off, the metallic waters of the lake were fairly placid. Twenty to 30 people, some with bicycles, were on board. During the 15-minute ride, I saw seagulls bobbing in the water and two squat propeller-driven commercial airliners coming in for a landing at the Island Airport.
“Welcome to paradise,” said a man as we disembarked.
I already knew the islands were special, having visited about a dozen times since the mid-1970s. But whenever I return, I feel something fresh and vital in the air rather than a sense of deja vu. In short, the islands invigorate me.
Veering right to a fairly secluded cycling path, we stopped at a plaque indicating that Babe Ruth, a legendary baseball player, hit his first professional home run here on September 5, 1914. Who knew?What a revelation. The baseball stadium where this now historic sports event occurred was demolished long ago.
We pedalled past thick groves of trees, reaching a sign directing us to a protected sand dunes zone. Having parked our bikes, we took in a tranquil tableaux of sand and water.
Beset by hunger pangs, my daughter requested a lunch break. I was only too happy to oblige, having made egg sandwiches and brought along home-grown cherry tomatoes and purple Greek olives as “side dishes.” It was a simple yet delicious Mediterranean meal fit for two hungry cyclists.
The bench we sat on was close to a glorious garden bursting with late-summer flowers and plants. As we ate, we watched Canada geese swimming in an artificial pool and noisy seagulls lunging for food scraps.
Resuming our ride, we passed a pier, a bicycle rental facility and a quaint fire station. Surprisingly, many more visitors were in evidence than I had expected on a day toward the end of the week. Some of them were riding bicycles and tricycles. Still others were walking. I was glad to be on a bike, which gives you a feeling of flexibility and freedom.
As we continued riding, we paused momentarily, first to admire a marina packed with beautiful sailboats and then to focus on Toronto’s skyline — a thicket of tall buildings gleaming in the sun. Several minutes later, we pulled into a rustic cafe set in a pleasant garden of rose bushes, sunflowers and a field of kale. It was an idyllic place to wind down and reflect on the day’s events.
Fortified by cold refreshments, we cycled into the quaint residential quarter, where 750 people live year-round in 262 cottages.
The cottages, some entangled with greenery and still others adorned with blazing flower beds, ranged from the ragged to the enchanted in terms of their appearance.
We returned to Hanlan’s Point via the boardwalk, a lovely stretch of pressure-treated wooden boards that creaked and groaned under our wheels.
We boarded the boat back to Toronto with something of a heavy heart because our tight schedule had permitted only a relatively brief visit.
The islands need a lot more time to be fully savored and appreciated.
We’ll be back again to let it all sink in a little deeper.