Toronto Islands in Winter
It is a different world on the Toronto Islands in winter with the animals at Far Enough Farm looking for visitors and skaters gracing the frozen canals, some playing a pickup game of hockey. The quaint cottage communities on Ward's and Algonquin Islands are draped in a coating of snow with cats patrolling the laneways.
Also the snow crunches as you walk along the boardwalk glancing at the ducks and distant lighthouse across Lake Ontario. The parkland is peaceful with footprints in the snow from the various walking groups and local dog walkers. So bring the whole family, this may be the best time of year to visit!
How to get to the Islands in Winter
The Toronto Island ferry departs from the Jack Layton docks at the foot of Bay Street, a short walk from Union Station. In winter the ferry travels to Wards Island only from around 6:35 a.m. until 11:35 p.m., with a different schedule on Sundays and holidays. In winter there is a heated waiting room with washrooms available at the dock.
Use this link for the Toronto Island Ferry Schedule Adult tickets for the return journey are currently $7.00 and there are special rates for groups, kids and seniors.
On the short ride of about 10 minutes you can stand on the deck or go into one of the two heated waiting rooms where you can sit and watch through the windows at the action on Toronto harbor. Feel free to roll your bike onto the ferry if you are planning on cycling.
It is special when there is ice in the harbor as the ferry crushes through this thin layer making a cracking noise. The views from the deck of the ferry are impressive as you approach the low laying islands. Looking behind you there is the city skyline including the CN Tower. On a recent journey a Porter Airlines flight flew low overhead on its way to landing at the island airport located at Hanlan's Point on the western tip.
When you arrive for the homes of Ward's Island just head on the sidewalk to your left and while the road takes you towards Algonquin and Centre Islands. There is a small and unheated hut with people waiting for the return ferry as well.
Boot the Purse Snatcher
During our visit one year, Conrad, a retired police horse reached into an open backpack to grab an apple. The horses sometimes wander around loose when the keeper is at the farm. The video below shows the other retired police horse named Boot, well, horsing around.
Winter Things to Do on the Toronto Islands
Skating - weather permitting, go skating on the canals noting where the knowledgeable local residents go as there could be open water in a few sections. The residents frequently will bike over to the best spots to skate just leaving them along the shore.
Be active - cross country ski or snowshoe across the parklands. The distance from Ward's Island to Hanlan's Point is 5.25 km one way. Many cyclists also bring their bikes on the ferry and not only cycle across the islands but around the laneways of Ward's and Algonquin Islands, after all that is how the residents get around as there are no cars.
Go on a walking tour - visit the cottage communities, Far Enough Farm to see the animals, walk the boardwalk and out on the pier stretching out into Lake Ontario. And you may also wish see Gibraltar Lighthouse.
Enjoy a coffee and dessert at the comfy Rectory Cafe.
Note: if walking with your dog be aware that there are coyotes in the area near Gibraltar Lighthouse.
Toronto Island Walking Tour
This brief walking tour takes about 3 1/2 hours and is 9 kilometers long including break for a snack and time spent seeing the animals.
Start from the ferry dock by heading to your left towards Ward's Island and walk up the lanes looking at all the interesting cottages and odds and ends scattered throughout the yards. The homes are close to the walkways and each other. There are heated washrooms located at the south end near the playing fields.
Head west from the washrooms and you will see one of the beaches with probably a few dog walkers along the shore. Turn right and head to the road and over the bridge to Algonquin Island. On arrival you will see a wagon where residents trade items they no longer need, but you can walk to the left passing the houseboats parked along the shores of the canals and skaters too. Visit the lanes of this community with larger homes still packed with interesting odds and ends on their yards. There are splendid views of the Toronto waterfront as well.
Return back across the bridge and continue straight passing the Rectory Cafe on your left until reaching the Boardwalk. Turn right and continue along the entire length looking out over the lake and nearby Leslie Street Spit with its lighthouse. When you reach the end continue along the road until arriving at the pier which juts out into Lake Ontario. In summer this is where you can rent bicycles.
Coming off the pier head straight towards Centre Island. Heated washrooms are located on your left as in the course for boar races. Cross the bridge and walk immediately to your right passing the closed restaurant to Far Enough Farm. Circle through the farm and exit via Centreville Amusement Park which is a ghost town in winter.
Speaking of ghosts, you can add extra distance by heading further west to the lighthouse. However, I usually take the walkway to the left passing the boat rental outlet and St. Andrews by the Lake Church. You will again be following one the canals where you are sure to see skaters before arriving by at the Ferry docks.
Toronto Islands Far Enough Farm
Open all year
Far Enough Farm is open all year. You know you are getting close as you can hear the calls of the ducks from the ponds at the entrance. You will find the donkeys curious and you can expect they will leave their homes to stroll over, they are always very social able.
In the barn you may find some large pigs, a few rabbits and on several visits there have been some baby animals. In the yard if the keeper is around you may find the horses and peacocks loose on the grounds. In the enclosures are donkeys, retired police horses and goats.
The animals are used to having people around. Although the sign states to never feed the animals the keepers don't seem to mind you feeding the horses who will enjoy any carrots and apples you bring, I always do. But beware, as they can nip you if you are not careful.
The farm is adjacent to Centreville amusement area (closed in winter), and it has been in continuous existence since 1959. Due to City of Toronto Funding cuts, Far Enough Farm and is in need of help from the public to keep it running. Scheduled to close on June 30, 2012 it currently remains open.
Almost all the adult walking groups love their visit to the farm, and of course kids do too.
Toronto Islands Ghost
The Gibraltar Point Lighthouse is the oldest stone building in Toronto, built in 1808. It is the oldest surviving lighthouse located on the Great Lakes.There was a lightkeeper until 1958 when the lighthouse was decommissioned. But be warned that the very first lightkeeper. J.P. Rademuller disappeared mysteriously in 1815 although it was suspected to be by drunken soldiers. A skeleton was found nearby later the lighthouse is still believed to be haunted by his ghost.