While thousands take the short ferry ride over to Toronto’s Centre Island for a day of fun every summer, few know about its eastern end, commonly called Ward’s Island, as a thriving residential area housing a generations-old community.
Away from the carnival games and rides of Centreville, the clothing optional beach at Hanlan’s Point and the Royal Canadian Yacht Club, about 300 all-season homes remain on the Toronto Islands. The Ward’s Island residents occupy roughly 12 acres or 150 homes with the remainder on adjacent Algonquin Island.
As it has been since 1915, most of the streets are named in sequence, as First, Second, Third and so on. The island has two daycare centres, a school and a church. Grocery shopping and just about everything else is still done on the mainland.
The highly sought-after homes here are generally passed down in the family as there are strict rules under provincial law governing buying and selling, although a couple are now available for rent through airbnb.
The islands have been a draw for Canadian artists for years for their easy escape from Toronto’s bustle. Today, government subsidized Artscape has almost 20 artist work studios here used by painters, sculptors, writers and musicians. There’s even a theatre company here as well as a recording studio.
While most houses here are humble, cottage-style abodes, a couple with recent structural upgrades offer a more contemporary feel. What they all have in common though, new or old, is undeniable charm and character. They are kitschy, quirky and loved – even the somewhat dilapidated ones.
Earlier this summer, a friend and I took our bikes out to explore the island and its seldom seen community. The following pictures demonstrate the variety and warmth of some of the houses we came across. All were photogenic and beautiful in their own way and an absolute treat to admire. Here’s a quick peek. Enjoy!
Whether you are taking the city operated ferry or one of the private water-taxi companies between Toronto harbour and the islands, bicycles are free to transport and offer the perfect way to get around. Toronto’s magic is in its neighbourhoods and the Toronto Islands offer yet another perfect example.