Ward’s Island, Algonquin Island, Centre Island, Hanlan’s Point, Billy Bishop our downtown island airport et al—I’ve read over and over about the glory of Chicago’s waterfront and how Toronto has messed up; I disagree.
I’ve been to Chicago, I’ve flown in and I’ve driven in, it’s a lovely waterfront, plenty of green, it’s certainly a fun city and architecturally striking. I happen to appreciate the drive (traffic notwithstanding) along our Lakeshore with its parks, bike trails, downtown along the lake I love the energy of people living and doing—yes, I like condos at water’s edge. If there are no neighbourhoods and people there’s no vibrancy after hours. Or in winter. And we have islands! I’m amazed at the number of people I know who’ve lived here for years but have never been, it’s a perfect getaway without leaving home.
A bit of preamble, if you’re not aware of the history of the islands here’s a snapshot: the islands are an archipelago of 15 (not manmade) that began as a peninsula, severed from the mainland by storm in 1852 the peninsula became island after being permanently severed in 1858 by a violent storm that cut a 500′ channel.
This long weekend I spent my Sunday on the islands. I live downtown and often get around by bike—a quick ten minute ride to the ferry terminal, ‘across the pond’ and you arrive to a land of water, sand, no cars! just pedestrian, pedal and boat power. If you’re taking the ferry minus a bike rentals are available once you land.
I love canoeing the islands, if you’re not entirely comfortable you can stay in the smaller channels or you can do it all and take on the lake as well (lifejackets are mandatory and supplied). If you’re going to rent a canoe or kayak reserve before you go, it’s a big draw on the island, countless people were disappointed yesterday not being able to grab and go. Book ahead, look for the blue boathouse.
Bike, canoe, paddleboard, kayak, walk, run, sun yourself—any number of fantastic beaches or go clothing optional at Hanlan’s Point if that’s your thing—I always take a stroll through the charming island neighbourhoods (Ward’s I find particularly appealing). Peaceful and simply irresistible…big exhale. Maybe a little envy…
Boat rentals, bike rentals, amusement park for the kids (Centreville Amusement on, appropriately, Centre Island, it does get busy so go early!), any number of fabulous beaches and when it comes to dining there are options at Centreville as well as the aforementioned delicious local Island Cafe. There’s also the more upscale Rectory Cafe (call ahead re the hours, they seem to close early, 5pm), they’ve a lovely outdoor space.
I love urban, I love my city but I’m entirely taken with the islands. There is a process by which you can attempt to buy your slice of heaven on the island, and it is a ‘process’, I’ll write about that as I wade in and take a stab at it myself!
One more…given what I do I had to check out the real estate both on and off land—float home tour by canoe 👍🏻