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The Toronto Islands

A biker’s guide to a day on the islands

History 

Land Acknowledgement

We acknowledge the land we inhabit and ride on is the traditional territory of many nations including the Mississaugas of the Credit, the Anishnabeg, the Chippewa, the Haudenosaunee and the Wendat peoples and is now home to many diverse First Nations, Inuit and Métis peoples. We also acknowledge that Toronto is covered by Treaty 13 with the Mississaugas of the Credit.

 

‘Menecing’

The Toronto Islands or ‘Menecing’ (meaning “on the island”) have long been a place of refuge from the hustle of daily life and later the bustle of the city. The Mississaugas of the Credit used the island for rest, relaxation and healing of their sick since the birth of the islands. 

There has been a community of both tent and Victorian homes since 1862, as the land was considered by settlers to have been included in the Toronto Purchase of 1787 and 1805. It’s important to note though that the Mississaugas of the Credit First Nation continued to dispute the legal ownership of the land as recently as 1986 when the Government of Canada settled the land claim with a cash payment.

 History 

Land Acknowledgement

We acknowledge the land we inhabit and ride on is the traditional territory of many nations including the Mississaugas of the Credit, the Anishnabeg, the Chippewa, the Haudenosaunee and the Wendat peoples and is now home to many diverse First Nations, Inuit and Métis peoples. We also acknowledge that Toronto is covered by Treaty 13 with the Mississaugas of the Credit.

 

‘Menecing’

The Toronto Islands or ‘Menecing’ (meaning “on the island”) have long been a place of refuge from the hustle of daily life and later the bustle of the city. The Mississaugas of the Credit used the island for rest, relaxation and healing of their sick since the birth of the islands.

There has been a community of both tent and Victorian homes since 1862, as the land was considered by settlers to have been included in the Toronto Purchase of 1787 and 1805. It’s important to note though that the Mississaugas of the Credit First Nation continued to dispute the legal ownership of the land as recently as 1986 when the Government of Canada settled the land claim with a cash payment.

To really understand what the islands mean to Torontonians, a quick history lesson might be in order.

How did this glorified sandbar become a permanent fixture of the Toronto coast? Like most things, the answer is likely monitary. In the 1790s when the British fortified the island to create a military outpost and lighthouse, others quickly flocked here to start hotels, camping sites & a host of other businesses to support tourism.

These mostly temporary camping sites quickly transformed into a full fledged neighbourhood of summer cottages for the wealthy residents of the city. Today, the city makes access affordable, efficient and above all else open to everyone.

When riding through the island, you can really feel and see the history that shrouds it. From the small wooden walkways, to limited roads for vehicular traffic and the countless small beaches tucked away at every corner, it almost feels like you’re entering a time machine. Destination: some time other than now.

Cozily cuddled up cottages made us rethink what living in a modern city should look and feel like. The unmistakably small town feel of the community left us wondering; how can we take a small piece of this back with us to the bustling concrete jungle just across the bay?

Fun fact: One of the all-time baseball greats, Babe Ruth hit his first career home run Toronto Maple Leaf Baseball Club on the islands. As a side note, could you imagine thousands of baseball fans packed onto ferries every home game? Yes please. Unfortunately, the baseball stadium at Hanlan’s Point is no more.

Curious to see what this exact boardwalk looks like today? Check out the image taken from our ride below.

Choppy Waters

The Toronto Islands have a tumultuous history with the waters of Lake Ontario to say the least.

The lake’s currents created the necessary preconditions to allow for the erosion of another one of the city’s formative landmarks; the Scarborough Bluffs to the east. The debris eventually settled forming a peninsula of sand  bars that created a natural harbour at what is now downtown Toronto.

Just as they had created them, stormy waters cut off the peninsula from the mainland, forming an island. In response, the residents attempted to reconnect the island to the mainland with a fill of silt, only to be washed away again just 6 years later. The islands were  eventually fortified over the next century, taking the shape that is familiar today.

For decades, the people of southern Ontario have enjoyed time on the island. Continual record breaking rising lake water levels, present the question; how much longer will Torontonians and visitors be able to take advantage of this paradise? 

These mostly temporary camping sites quickly transformed into a full fledged neighbourhood of summer cottages for the wealthy residents of the city. Today, the city makes access affordable, efficient and above all else open to everyone. 

Fun fact: One of the all-time baseball greats, Babe Ruth hit his first career home run Toronto Maple Leaf Baseball Club on the islands. As a side note, could you imagine thousands of baseball fans packed onto ferries every home game? Yes please. Unfortunately, the baseball stadium at Hanlan’s Point is no more.

To really understand what the islands mean to Torontonians, a quick history lesson might be in order.

How did this glorified sandbar become a permanent fixture of the Toronto coast? Like most things, the answer is likely monitary. In the 1790s when the British fortified the island to create a military outpost and lighthouse, others quickly flocked here to start hotels, camping sites & a host of other businesses to support tourism.

Curious to see what this exact boardwalk looks like today? Check out the image taken from our ride below.

When riding through the island, you can really feel and see the history that shrouds it. From the small wooden walkways, to limited roads for vehicular traffic and the countless small beaches tucked away at every corner, it almost feels like you’re entering a time machine. Destination: some time other than now.

Cozily cuddled up cottages made us rethink what living in a modern city should look and feel like. The unmistakably small town feel of the community left us wondering; how can we take a small piece of this back with us to the bustling concrete jungle just across the bay?

Choppy Waters

The Toronto Islands have a tumultuous history with the waters of Lake Ontario to say the least.

The lake’s currents created the necessary preconditions to allow for the erosion of another one of the city’s formative landmarks; the Scarborough Bluffs to the east. The debris eventually settled forming a peninsula of sand  bars that created a natural harbour at what is now downtown Toronto.

Just as they had created them, stormy waters cut off the peninsula from the mainland, forming an island. In response, the residents attempted to reconnect the island to the mainland with a fill of silt, only to be washed away again just 6 years later. The islands were  eventually fortified over the next century, taking the shape that is familiar today.

For decades, the people of southern Ontario have enjoyed time on the island. Continual record breaking rising lake water levels, present the question; how much longer will Torontonians and visitors be able to take advantage of this paradise? 

The Ride

Difficulty: Easy | Topography: Flat Terrain: Pavement, Gravel, Grass

The Toronto Islands are accessible by both City of Toronto operated ferries and water taxi (if you’re feeling fancy), but the go-to for most Torontonians is definitely the ferry.

Jack Layton Ferry Terminal located at Bay Street & Yonge Street Queen’s Quay. We recommend checking the most up to date ferry schedule before arriving at the docks to maximize your time on the island. The ferry has 3 designated drop-off locations, from East to West: Ward’s Island, Centre Island, Hanlan’s Point. Tickets can be purchased online or at the ticket booth located at the docks.

Pro Tip: If you’re riding (which we certainly hope you are) take the ferry to Ward’s Island to avoid the longer lines to Centre Island & Hanlan’s Point. There is ample space for your steed on the deck of this ferry, free of burdensome seating. Be sure to turn around and take in the most beautiful view of skyline this city has to offer. Check out to map below for more info!

The Toronto Islands are accessible by both City of Toronto operated ferries and water taxi (if you’re feeling fancy), but the go-to for most Torontonians is definitely the ferry.

Jack Layton Ferry Terminal located at Bay Street & Yonge Street Queen’s Quay. We recommend checking the most up to date ferry schedule before arriving at the docks to maximize your time on the island. The ferry has 3 designated drop-off locations, from East to West: Ward’s Island, Centre Island, Hanlan’s Point. Tickets can be purchased online or at the ticket booth located at the docks.

Pro Tip: If you’re riding (which we certainly hope you are) take the ferry to Ward’s Island to avoid the longer lines to Centre Island & Hanlan’s Point. There is ample space for your steed on the deck of this ferry, free of burdensome seating. Be sure to turn around and take in the most beautiful view of skyline this city has to offer. Check out to map below for more info!

Once on the island, the 14 km route is straight forward and can be found on All Trails. However, we highly recommend stopping along the way to explore the maze of smaller pathways that snake through the neighhourhoods on the island.

Keep your eyes peeled as your approach Centre Island Park and you might even be lucky enough to get a glimpse of an escaped peacock or other wildlife native to the island.

The Trend

Since it was first recorded in 1918, the water levels in Lake Ontario have seen fluctutations but has remained relatively constant at around 74.5 m.

 According to the international joint commission (IJC), the unprecedented flooding of 2017 brought water levels of 75.85m, however this record was quickly broken in 2019 when water levels rose as high as 75.92m. With this trend expected to continue, the Toronto Islands are being prepared to handle future flooding.

This map displays the level of flooding expected in a series of flooding scenarios (75.3-76.3m).

Water levels in June 2019 as we stepped on the island were 83cm above the average & 63 cm above the previous year.

The Flooded Ride

With record-breaking water levels in Lake Ontario, the City of Toronto ferries had no problem hauling a boat filled with bikers to the islands. As we approached, the unmistakable sight of sandbags lining the shores and the constant whirring of pumps quickly reminded us that the residents of the island were resisting the ever-patient and constant tide. 

 The real tricky part came when we made landfall. 

 Entire sections of the pathway were completely under water. Fields were flooded. Boats docked at the marina floated eerily at eye level. The usual bustle of the island on a Sunday was missing. Our steeds came prepared to handle the shifting terrain, but we’ll get into that…

The Steeds 

The Holdsworth’s inaugural ride.

This classic British racer is pictured in its classic-brand colours and complemented by a pair of cream fenders. Now we can’t confirm whether it has ever crossed the British Channel, but making its way across a short stretch of Lake Ontario en route to the islands it looked and felt perfectly in place. The fenders fought off the advancing tide as we made our way along the flooded coast of the island. Combined with its silky smooth ride and ‘cafe-racer’ riding position, the ‘Creamsicle’ is the perfect ride to escape the bustling city on a beautiful Sunday afternoon.

The Miyata

The Miyata. Every great classic car needs a camera car in chase. With it’s basket filled to the brim with camera gear, picnic gear and a drink holder for good measure, this is the perfect companion to the lightweight Holdsworth.

The trusty Japanese Shimano Deore DX groupset with 3 chain rings in the front and 7 in the rear gives this Japanese frame all of the gear range you’d ever need for a ride like this. Whether tackling hills with weight in tow or cruising on some fresh pavement, the Miyata’s gearing keeps you rolling. 

The hammered fenders served us well as we cruised through flooded pathways and boardwalks alike. The intermediate clearance kept us quite literally; high and dry.

The worn leather saddle from Brooks stretches the Miyata’s range comfortably. The small rear saddle bag is the perfect storage companion for a few tools like tire levers, multi and patches…oh, snacks, battery pack and extra memory cards (can’t miss those shots!).

Credits:

History of Toronto Islands images: Toronto Public Library Digital Archives 

Toronto Island Flooding Projection Map: Toronto Regional Conservation Authority

Flooded Toronto Island Images (As seen top to bottom, & right to left)

1, 4, 5, 6) Now Magazine Toronto

2) The Star 

3) Now Magazine Toronto