Island Bound

9 May 2014 – Well, it took long enough, but the Tuesday Walking Society finally made it to the Toronto Islands. Blame the endless winter. Each time we said “This is the week” during March & April, Mother Nature giggled and threw another snowstorm at us.

Never mind. This week, it all worked out.

Sam McBride: the 9:45 a.m. to the Islands

So here we are, about to board the Sam McBride — one of the three Island ferry boats, all of them wooden-tubby-vintage (this one, 1939), and all stoutly meeting passenger needs three seasons of the year. (Winter-time, Island residents and the few seasonal tourists ride the much smaller & newer Ongiara.) We’re on the 9:45 a.m. sailing, still early enough in the morning that Islanders are pouring off for their assorted mainland destinations, with us visitors waiting our turn to board.

I do love being on the Islands! As I explained in earlier posts, Enchantment on the Toronto Islands and Art & Architecture on the Toronto Islands, I have history here — and  an ongoing fascination with islands in general. (Those earlier posts will also show you more images of Island streets, so it’s worth clicking on them.)

Phyllis & I hop off at Ward’s Island, the dock for the two residential islands (Ward’s & Algonquin), planning to weave through their magic laneways before walking on to Centre Island (public parkland & amusement area). The word “laneways” isn’t quite accurate, in that we are walking on official, named Island streets — but with no private vehicles allowed, these streets are more to a laneway scale. Perfect for bicycle and foot traffic. And cat and dog traffic.

As usual, there are artistic embellishments everywhere.  Once threatened with expropriation for further parkland, now secure with home ownership (and long leases on the land), Islanders just plain exult in their surroundings, and show it. With a woven willow front fence, for example …

willow fence, Ward's Island street

…  or a funny-face mailbox, next to a sign for the current protest against jet traffic at the Island airport …

mail & activism, Ward's Island

…  or a Habs (Montreal Canadiens hockey team) sweater in a window, to cheer on the team as it battles for the Stanley Cup …

Hab jersey, Ward's Island window

… or a mini-treehouse.

tree art, Ward's Island

We walk a narrow pathway along the edge of the Eastern Gap, making our way from the Toronto Harbour side to the Lake Ontario side, then double around the corner through parkland to the Ward’s Island beach. It’s not off-limits to visitors, but known to very few of them, so it remains largely the preserve of residents.

ward's Island beach, lake-side

Imagine living in one of these homes, looking across these dunes to Lake Ontario, with sailboats heeling by in season and Leslie Spit on the southern horizon! Now turn your head — and there’s the city on the northern horizon behind you. (I swear, the CN Tower muscles into every skyline shot of this city, no matter where you are. No wonder it’s an icon. Or just the world’s best photo-bomber.)

We criss-cross a few more Ward’s Island streets, making our way back toward the ferry dock where we’ll pick up the road for Algonquin Island and eventually Centre Island as well. This takes us past the Ward’s Island Recreation Association facilities, and yes, look, tennis players already.

But that’s not what really catches our attention. Would you focus on tennis players when you could be checking out a dragon instead?

fire-breathing dragon, Ward's Island Recreation Assn facility

Especially if it’s a dragon that really, truly can breathe fire. (Well, so it seems. All the tubing is in place on the other side.)

Respectful nod to both dragons — yes, a pair — and we walk around the other side of the building. There we see a plaque explaining this is Willow Square, heart of the community for Ward’s and Algonquin, complete with a 12-ft diameter mosaic that celebrates the islands’ history, people and natural world.

It was created and installed in fall 2011 by a group of Islanders & friends, who had been inspired by British pebble mosaic artist Maggy Howarth, learned her techniques in workshops held the previous winter, and carried out their project with the support of their Recreation Association and the City of Toronto.

detail, Willow Sq. pebble mosaic, Ward's Island

A big, branching willow tree at the centre, with dancing waves at the rim, along with fish, birds, Island homes, bikes and bicycle carts. I especially like the carts. Mainlanders have SUVs. Islanders have bike carts.

Some more tree ornamentation as we head toward Algonguin Island …

tree art, toward Centre Island

…  and a stop at the Rectory Café for lunch.

It’s crowded, we think, for a Tuesday in what is still early spring — hardly tourist season yet, this must be (except for us) local patronage.

Not entirely right! A family and an older couple are sharing the table behind, we don’t exactly eavesdrop, but we do hear the conversation … Enough to learn that the older couple are visiting from Vancouver, and the young family, from the Netherlands.

The Vancouverites explain it is a Canadian ritual to hate Toronto (once a book bore that very title, Let’s All Hate Toronto), but they decided to come see for themselves — and yes, there are good things to be said about this city after all. The Dutch family pick up on the word “good,” say they are having a very good time here. “Toronto the Good,” somebody adds.

As adopted Torontonians (neither of us born here), Phyllis & I share a quick little smirk of vindication.

Next, over the footbridge to Algonquin Island. I point out the house where I lived, all those years ago. It rates a glance, but we spend more time with this kiosk next to the footbridge.

take-one, leave-one kiosk, Algonquin Is.

The custom began after I left the island, but must now be at least a decade old. Take something, leave something, or both. We take: Phyllis a warm, wavy-edged neck scarf, perfect for next winter; me a book, slightly water-damaged but intact. We vow to bring contributions, next time we’re here.

There are other offerings, more casually placed. We later see several boxes of books set out by someone’s front walk, with a hand-printed “They’re free!” sign to encourage passers-by. We don’t pick any up here, but do admire the range — from How To Buy a Used Boat, to a lavish coffee-table art book titled simply Brueghel.

We’d noticed people carrying fishing rods & nets among our fellow passengers on the Sam McBride. As we follow a lagoon-side path toward Centre Island, we come on one of them. Isn’t he the picture of patience? Aren’t they always?

fishing the Toronto Islands lagoons

We don’t interrupt him to ask what’s down there, but apparently bass and other sport fish populations are on the rise — result of, demonstration of, markedly improved environmental conditions. Fish that thrive in poor-quality water, like the white sucker, are now on the decline.

Through the Centre Island parkland, to the dock, onto the ferry, city-bound. We head for the upper deck.

ferry, with N.S.Duck Tolling dog

Please admire the dog. Phyllis had spotted him on Ward’s Island earlier — being from Nova Scotia, she knows a Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever when she sees one. Even if he is unusually sedate. They are usually the furry equivalent of Whirling Dervishes, but this guy is pretty old and a bit stiff-legged. We had watched him cavort in the shoreline water on Ward’s, almost puppy-ish again for one happy moment, but he’s tired now.

Back on the mainland, walking east on Queen’s Quay along the waterfront, I cross the foot of Yonge St., smack dab at the water’s edge. This image is just the punch-line segment of a long engraved banner listing communities on Yonge St, and their distance from this O-km starting point. “The World’s Longest Street” says the banner.

Yonge St. & Lake Ontario: start of the world's longest street

Impressive, yes? Mind, there is some nit-picky argument about whether Yonge can truly be called the World’s Longest Street. It is indeed continuous from here to the municipality of Rainy River, 1896 km distant — but it changes name along the way.

So… is it one street, or several?

I say it is one street. So there.

Speaking of  “Island Bound” …

“Iceland Penny” is my heritage nickname, left over from the original days & purpose of this blog, but now I’m claiming a new nickname. Albeit temporary.

“Guernsey Girl.”

Yes! I’m off to the Channel Islands for two weeks, based in St. Peter Port, and beyond excited at the thought. Gods of technology willing, I’ll be blogging to you from there. Any tips & suggestions you’d like to offer me for my visit? Hit “comment” & send them to me right now. Please.

(And now you know why snappy new hiking boots were suddenly on the agenda.)

Leave a comment


  1. That mosaic is really neat! And the tree ornaments, and the book kiosk, the seeing the tower. Beautiful springtime it appears. Great story and pics, yet again!! ~SueBee

    • Yes, the mosaic is delightful. I don’t know how I missed it, in previous visits — but how nice to have another discovery. Thanks for taking time to comment

  2. Great walk across the Toronto islands with your own unique take on them…and then to find it’s a warm up for the Channel Islands! Look forward to your posts from there and travel well.

  3. Always look forward to your travels and seem to have missed this one. The islands sounds very interesting – I live on an island but to the North there is a bridge so not a big gap and to the west a ferry but it takes only five minutes to get to Portsea Island – Southsea and Portsmouth which has Spinnaker tower – seen from many different views


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    "Traveller, there is no path. Paths are made by walking" -- Antonio Machado (1875-1939)

    "The voyage of discovery is not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes" -- Marcel Proust (1871-1922)

    "A city is a language, a repository of possibilities, and walking is the act of speaking that language, of selecting from those possibilities" -- Rebecca Solnit, "Wanderlust: A History of Walking"

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