May 28, 2010 — Over the past summer, my life has been crazy busy with very little time to write. Between our daughter’s wedding, a houseful of wonderful family and guests, and small vacation, time has whizzed past. But, through all of this, there was still time to get out and enjoy a “Great Day Out” on Centre Island just off the shores of Toronto. My friends Mary, Ann and I went there at the end of May and it was fantastic!
If you read my last blog, you may get the impression that I am always the last one to arrive to our outings, but remarkably, not this time. This was probably because Ann drove us to Mary’s so the opportunity didn’t exist. The drive to Toronto was easy; we took the 404 to the DVP, and then the Gardiner to Spadina. We had to do some fancy manoeuvring on Spadina because we were going in the wrong direction – moth technique - but managed to end up on the Queens Quay West. Driving in an easterly direction, we found a great parking lot on the north side of street for $15 per day. It was almost across from the ferry terminal entrance, which was an added bonus. According to the ferry schedule, boats leave every half hour, but I would recommend you check with the ferry service before planning a trip, in case they have a fall/ winter schedule. Now comes the cost . . . amazingly it was only $6.50 return! I think it is a steal of a deal; when you arrive on the island, there are no additional admission fees.
The boat ride was great. A little on the short side, but you do get to enjoy the Toronto skyline, with its many picturesque photo ops. I had never been to the island, and I had heard that the only activity on the island was a children’s amusement park. Wow, was that wrong. Upon arrival, there is an immediate sense of space, the grasslands are neatly trimmed, and gardens well manicured. It doesn’t feel like a children’s amusement park at all. The island is a good size. It’s actually a chain of small islands. Weaving through the park there are narrow roads/pathways, and residents are not allowed cars, which creates a tranquil escape. However, it does seem a bit odd when you read signs that say, “Please walk on the grass.” There are some lovely beaches, great restaurants, and lots of room to have picnics. Apart from the many cycle paths, there are also wading pools, a petting zoo, Centerville Amusement Park, and Franklin Children’s Garden.
Understanding our love for food, naturally the first stop was to visit a restaurant. The one we chose was called the Carousel. It is located next to a pretty pond that seemed to be home to some well-fed domesticated ducks and geese. The food was great! I had some mushroom soup that was really good and a lovely gourmet salad. Considering we were on an island, the cost was quite reasonable.
Mary, Ann and I had decided to rent bikes, which are available on the island. These heavy framed bikes come in all sizes and shapes, and I have got to tell you renting bikes was a lot of fun. It made it possible for us to see most of the island in the time we had. Well, except for the children’s area. I should have grandkids to do that.
The island has an interesting history and currently is home to small number of people. It used to be joined to the main land through sand bars formed from alluvial deposits from the Scarborough Bluffs. Circular wave action caused sand pits to form on the east side in the sandbars where it was attached to the main land. In 1852, a bad storm filled up sand pits and then in 1858 another storm attacked the walls of the sand pits, separating the island from the mainland.
Apart from the lovely landscape and facilities, what I found most interesting were the residents and the peaceful world they have created. Most of the dwellings are small cottages/houses. Some of them still have the older style fake brick siding or aged wood to give a rustic appearance. The cottages and gardens are beautifully manicured to look un-kept. Decorated with old artifacts that I wouldn’t have given houseroom, some how in this community they look perfect. It feels a bit surreal — a place where time stands still, cats take ownership of doorsteps, and harmony between all living things exists. I have to raise my hat to the residents; they have managed created an oasis of lush greenery out of sand deposits that were once void of vegetation.
There are no official stores on the island; people have to cross over to Loblaw's on Queen's Quay for supplies, and you can see them carting groceries home in various wheeled objects on the ferry. However, there is a school on the island, and we all had a good laugh when a small school bus came up behind us as we were riding the bikes and rang his warning bell for us to move. I am beginning to believe that without the presence of school buses, our “great day out” just wouldn’t be the same.
As a place to visit, Centre Island, also known as Toronto Island, is a wonderful destination. It has plenty to offer people of all ages. We had a fabulous day, and I would highly recommend that if you are looking for a great (and inexpensive) experience, visit Center Island!