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article imageSnowstorm aftermath: After pain comes delight

By Bart B. Van Bockstaele     Dec 18, 2007 in Travel
By now, most people have dug themselves out of Sunday’s snowstorm. However, snow is not just an annoyance, it is also a source of great joy. Yesterday, I left the joys of shovelling to someone else, and went to the Toronto Islands instead.
Toronto is a fantastic city. It is lively, multicultural, green, safe, there simply aren’t enough superlatives to describe it. What saddens me is that so many people live here for decades without ever realizing that what they are looking for ‘up north’ can usually be found in the city itself. I am talking about this little hidden paradise of ours: the Toronto Islands.
Yesterday, I decided to do what I preach, and went for a walk on the Islands. Be very careful when you go to this banana shaped park. The similarities with ‘up north’ go rather deep. I am giving a few suggestions at the end of the article.
Going to the Islands starts with transportation. Six dollars get you a ferry ride to the Islands, and back.
There are three ferry lines: to Ward’s Island in the east, to Centre Island in the middle, and to Hanlan’s Point in the West. This is winter, and there is currently no service to Centre Island. There is a very limited service to Hanlan’s Point during the week, none during the weekend.
St. Andrew by the Lake in the snow - Photo by Bart B. Van Bockstaele
St. Andrew by the Lake in the snow - Photo by Bart B. Van Bockstaele
This is important: ask for a schedule when you go there. Write down the phone number of the water taxis, in case you get stuck. Don’t take this lightly, it could cost you your life.
I took the 11:30 am ferry to Ward’s Island, and went straight west along the main road of the Islands (Cibola Avenue), past Algonquin Island and Snake Island.
I did nothing more than follow the road. That was a lot harder than it sounds, for at times, there was no road to follow: it was hidden by the snow. So, instead, I more or less followed the South shoreline. In doing so, passing by the little church of St. Andrew by the Lake was inevitable.
Centreville in the snow - Photo by Bart B. Van Bockstaele
Centreville in the snow - Photo by Bart B. Van Bockstaele
I am an atheist, but that most definitely doesn't prevent me from enjoying the romantic view of this beautiful little church in the snow.
After that, I went to visit Centreville. Most Torontonians know this, either because they went there as children, or because they took their children there. But how peaceful it looks in the snow! If you look carefully, you will see some tracks in the snow. Those are mine. In order to take the picture, I had to walk knee deep in the snow. The road was not cleared. Needless to say that the black-crowned night heron (Nycticorax nycticorax) that can usually be seen on Swan Lake, was nowhere to be found.
Olympic Island in the snow - Photo by Bart B. Van Bockstaele
Olympic Island in the snow - Photo by Bart B. Van Bockstaele
I was very surprised to see the dozens of geese and ducks in Far Enough Farm. After my walk, one of the people who works for the ferry service, told me that these animals are being fed throughout the winter. Obviously, this is why they stay here.
I walked through Centreville and continued to Olympic Island where I simply followed the perimeter of the Island. This was very much harder than it sounds as I was knee deep in the snow for most of the walk. Snow shoes are probably a very good idea here. Be careful for accidents. When I crossed the little bridge, I managed to fall on my behind. It was a reminder that this can be a dangerous adventure.
Rogers Centre and CN Tower as seen from Island Park - Photo by Bart B. Van Bockstaele
Rogers Centre and CN Tower as seen from Island Park - Photo by Bart B. Van Bockstaele
Make no mistake, if you fall, nobody is going to find you here. You'd better make sure that you have a mobile phone with you, so that you can phone for help.
After crossing the bridge to Island Park I continued to follow the perimeter, went passed the lonesome Centre Island Ferry Dock and the closed Island Paradise Café to reach the best spot anywhere to take pictures of the CN Tower and the Rogers Centre. I couldn't help pausing for a while and admiring the tree silhouettes against the snowy sky. There seemed to be quite a bit of wind, since the cloudscape changed continuously.
Tree silhouette - Photo by Bart B. Van Bockstaele
Tree silhouette - Photo by Bart B. Van Bockstaele
I walked passed the boats of the nearby marina that were simply parked on the island and went back to the Island's main road. Some children were tobogganing there. I wondered how they got there, until I realized that they probably came from the nearby school (yes, indeed, there is a school on Centre Island). After crossing the bridge again, I walked further west, still following the south shore, passing the Turtle Pond and Hot-dog Island. Continuing on Cibola Avenue (the main road) from there, it went passed Gibraltar Point, with its temporary lodgings for very privileged artists, and the famous Lighthouse.
Lighthouse in the snow - Photo by Bart B. Van Bockstaele
Lighthouse in the snow - Photo by Bart B. Van Bockstaele
For the first time ever, I noticed two girls skiing in the park. The Toronto Islands are great for skiing. Real skiing, not gliding-down-the-slope-until-it-stops, that’s for wimps, but true cross-country skiing. Of course, no one is preventing you from going snow shoeing either. I am arguably the wimpiest of all, since I don't do anything of this. Somehow, I feel safer on my feet, protected by Yaktrax.
I walked passed a hollow tree that usually houses a raccoon but nobody was home. On it went past the Trout Pond, arguably one of the most beautiful parts of the Islands.
Hanlan s Point in the snow - Photo by Bart B. Van Bockstaele
Hanlan's Point in the snow - Photo by Bart B. Van Bockstaele
In summer it is teeming with life and as noisy as the terns make it then, as quiet it was now.
From there, I went on to Hanlan’s Point Beach. In order to access the beach, one has to walk on a wooden walkway across the dunes. Be careful here, because it quite easy to slip off the path. Hanlan's Point dunes are being naturalized and, except during winter, it is possible to see many rare birds and butterflies there.
Hanlan's Point Beach is arguably Toronto's most beautiful beach and now, covered by foot-deep snow, it was more beautiful than ever. For people who like skiing, it is unreal. How many people ever get to ski on the beach?
Hanlan s Point Beach in the snow - Photo by Bart B. Van Bockstaele
Hanlan's Point Beach in the snow - Photo by Bart B. Van Bockstaele
The shoreline is very interesting, for it is covered with small heaps of ice. These heaps are formed by water drops that mainly freeze while flying through the air. As a result, they are like little sand heaps, and they are just as treacherous. Be prepared to go right through to the water when you step on them.
After spending a few minutes there on the beach, I reluctantly rushed to the Hanlan’s Point Ferry Dock since the last ferry leaves for the city at 3:45 pm. Don’t miss it for if you do, the only way to get off the Island is the Ward’s Island ferry, more than five kilometres east from there, meaning that you’re in for a walk in darkness. If you really get stuck, you can phone a water taxi, if you have the number.
Hanlan s Point Park in the snow - Photo by Bart B. Van Bockstaele
Hanlan's Point Park in the snow - Photo by Bart B. Van Bockstaele
A few words to the wise. While the Toronto Islands are not exactly a wilderness like Canada’s high north, meaning that you will not be eaten by hungry polar bears, there is no easy way off the islands if you get in trouble. If you decide to go to the Islands, be prepared.
Since the Islands are part of the city, mobile phones do work here. By all means, carry one. There are also public phones, but they may not always be close enough. There are washrooms, but they are even harder to find. A few plastic bags and wet tissues are a good idea, just in case.
There is nothing to buy on the Islands in winter. You must bring your own food and drinks. At minus 10, 20 or lower, bringing piping hot drinks is certainly smart. They may still be warm when you feel like drinking. Bring enough warm clothing. You won't be able to warm yourself if you get cold. Don't bring too much either. It is hard to enjoy life when you're packed like a camel.
The trajectory I have followed can be seen on the little map. All in all, a nice long walk on the Toronto Islands is an enjoyable experience. Everyone who lives here, should try it, and if you are a tourist, and you happen to be in the neighbourhood: try it!
Tree covered by ice - Photo by Bart B. Van Bockstaele
Tree covered by ice - Photo by Bart B. Van Bockstaele
Map and GPS-trace of a walk on Toronto s Islands - Photo by Bart B. Van Bockstaele
Map and GPS-trace of a walk on Toronto's Islands - Photo by Bart B. Van Bockstaele
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