Toronto Islands winter

Visiting Toronto Island in Winter – In Photos.

by Ellie Cleary

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Visiting Toronto Island in winter is a right of passage for any Torontonian – or visitor to the city. It’s possible to visit year round as the residents on the islands rely on the ferry service to connect to the main city. Even when the channel ices over! If you don’t fancy a trip across the lake in freezing conditions then sit back and enjoy our photos. 

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Visiting Toronto Island in Winter

Our first experience of visiting the Toronto Islands – a short hop from downtown Toronto itself – was last summer in the full heat of July. When the Polar Vortex hit at the end of January / early February we felt called to head out to Toronto Island for some ice-capped views of what island life is like mid winter (and of course for some snowy views of the Toronto skyline).

Here are our experiences in case you, too, feel called to the islands for a winter visit, or are just curious about what it’s like!

how to get to Toronto Island in winter

The Toronto Islands

What is commonly referred to as “Toronto Island” is actually a chain of 15 small islands, forming the Toronto Islands today. Their name was formerly the Islands of Hiawatha in the indigenous language. The islands were originally a peninsula, attached to the mainland and city of Toronto by a thin stretch of land near the islands western end until a storm cut through the silt, permanently detaching the islands in 1858. The islands provide valuable shelter from prevailing weather to downtown Toronto.

Today, the Toronto Islands are home to 300 residences (although some of these are not occupied year round). There’s a school on the islands, a church, two day care centres and a small community who live here year around. For those who dream of the quiet of the island life: forget it! There’s a 100 year waiting list for propery on the Islands as further development is prohibited.

toronto islands in winter

A local man riding towards the ferry terminal on Toronto islands

Getting to the Toronto Islands in Winter

Of the usual ferry service that runs from Jack Layton Ferry Terminal in downtown Toronto, the service is restricted in winter. From the usually regular services to Hanlan’s Point, Centre Island and Ward’s Island, only the Ward’s Island service remains in winter.

The winter ferry timetable starts late october and continues until early spring (there’s no exact date for this!). On Mondays – Saturdays ferries leave approximately every hour between 6.30am and 11.30pm but the exact times change – so check the schedule! More info here.

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From Ward’s Island you’ll have to walk to wherever you want to go to on the Islands – the alternative is to bring your bicycle with you on the ferry, but if it’s icy we urge you to think twice about that!

Make sure you look up ferry return times in advance so you can avoid getting stuck on the islands in freezing weather!

winter toronto islands

Views across the frozen lake from the Toronto Islands

Things to do on the Toronto Islands in Winter

Most of the activities on the Islands in winter consist of outdoor winter activities: From joining a local game of ice hockey on Ward’s island (bring your own skates) to ice skating on the frozen stretches of water (look at where others are skating and be careful on natural ice) to cross-country skiing (again you’ll need to bring your own equipment) if you’re a snow or ice bunny you’ll find plenty to keep you occupied.

There are toilets located a short walk from the ferry jetty at Ward’s island, and there’s now a warming shelter to wait for the return ferry.

visiting toronto islands

Walking on a frozen creek on Wards Island

Bring your own thermos flask with something warm in it and refreshments as during winter you’re not guaranteed to find any cafes or shops open. When we visited in early febuary, everything was closed around Ward’s despite google maps telling us the opposite. By March, some of the cafes are generally more likely to be open as people return from winter holidays. Island Cafe is closest to the ferry terminal, and The Rectory is a restaurant a short walk away.

Possibly the best thing to do on Toronto Islands in winter (and the reason for our freezing visit) is the photography. The snowy scenes, city views and frozen landscapes are truly spectacular – with nary a soul around to get in your way.

Part of the magic of the Toronto Islands is their isolation – which may, in winter, feel a bit like desolation. We love a visit the islands to reconnect to the sound of singing birds, plenty of trees and a good dose of peace and quiet – and winter is the perfect time to enjoy the Toronto Islands to yourself!

Have you visited the Toronto Islands in Winter? How was your experience? Let us know in the comments below! 

Read more on Travel in Toronto on Soul Travel Blog: 

Our Favourite Things to do in Toronto in Spring & Summer

Moving to Toronto – How we Ended up in Canada


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Visit the Toronto Islands in Winter - a must for photographers and outdoor lovers when looking for things to do in #toronto! #canada #canadatravel

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