People who have never visited Toronto are often unaware that there is actually a chain of small islands in Lake Ontario just offshore from downtown that are called, fittingly, the Toronto Islands. You can get there by taking a ferry from the (again, aptly-named) Ferrydocks.
Sediments flowing from the Niagara River caused the chain, originally a sand spit, to form, and after a massive storm flood in the mid 19th century, the geography was made relatively permanent. Although the City of Toronto owns the land, Canada’s feds have acknowledged the ownership rights of the Mississauga (aboriginal) people, to whom the islands are sacred.
The biggie is Centre Island (also called Toronto Island), which is home to a themed amusement park for kids called Centreville – complete with windmill-style Ferris Wheel, splashworthy log ride and bumper boats, Iron Horse railway, and carousel from 1907. If parents aren’t in the mood for shrieks or swimsuits, Franklin Children’s Garden (based on the Franklin the Turtle books) is another option, with lower-key activities like storytelling and gardening. Lastly, on Gibraltar Point sits the oldest landmark in Toronto, the Gibraltar Point Lighthouse, built in the early 1800′s to help out Lake Ontario sailors.
Sporting and leisure activities abound on the islands – notably volleyball, boating, tennis, and frisbee golf. There are plenty of beaches as well, like Manitou Beach, Ward’s Island Beach, and Centre Island Beach. Four yacht clubs (including the Royal Canadian Yacht Club) partake in island life, and dragon boat enthusiasts may be interested in the annual Toronto International Dragon Boat Race Festival.
There are still residents, albeit only a few hundred, that live on Algonquin (Sunfish) Island and Ward’s Island, and the north-western end of the island chain accommodates civil aircraft at the small Toronto Island Airport.
Visit the Friends of Toronto Islands website for news, events, history, and more details of how to escape city life!