For my birthday this year, Cam gave me the awesome gift of a 1 day canoe rental from the Harbourfront Canoe & Kayak Centre. My birthday was back in May, but we kept waiting for a day with good weather and no plans so it took us until August 1st to cash it in! We rented our canoe on the mainland and canoed across the channel to the islands, and then puttered around the island's rivers for the day, stopping at beaches and such for picnicing.
If you aren't familiar with the islands, here is a picture!
The islands are an amazing part of this city, that I honestly didn't appreciate for years until Cam and I started regularly visiting last summer. For the record, on the west end is Billy Bishop Airport, then you have Hanlon's point, where there is a clothing optional beach, then Centre Island, with restaurants and an amusement park, and finally Ward's Island, which is home to the residents of the islands and is covered in adorable cottages. It is all connected with bridges and paths and there are almost no vehicles on the islands so everyone just walks or bikes!
To get to the islands you have to take a ferry or water-taxi (there is a tunnel to the airport, that literally just opened, but no access from the airport to the islands due to all those pesky planes taking off and landing). But on this occasion Cam and I used our own arm power to get there!
Renting the canoe was fairly simple. We emailed a few days in advance to reserve it (they do sell out!) and then we just loaded up at the dock, did some back and forth paddling in the harbour to prove we knew how to canoe, and off we went! They warned us the winds might pick up (thunderstorms were in the forecast, but thankfully never came), and offered to pick us up at the islands if we couldn't make it back across the lake. And they give you a laminated map! Great service!
Cam and I are actually pretty decent canoers- he has been canoeing at the cottage since he was a kid, and I actually took lessons at summer camp from ages 8-16. I can't ice skate, but I think Canada let me keep my citizenship due to my ability to canoe. Though, I really suck at portaging (don't tell the government)
We started off canoeing around the west end and soon decided we wanted to try and get to a beach for lunch. However, you aren't allowed to canoe around the back of the islands and therefore you can't access the main beach- Hanlon's Point, so we beached our canoe somewhere in Trout's Pond and semi-portaged it around. Unfortunately it was too far of a walk from where we were to the main beach, so we ended up hanging out at a little private spot in the south for a bit. I went for a swim and it was FREEZING!! It was otherwise a nice spot, with logs to sit on, and sandy waters, and I saw a mink...but ya...too cold for my blood.
Then we loaded our canoe back into the water and continued paddling around for a couple hours, going all the way to ward's island in the east and back.
We ended up at a small island in the west end that had a beach (Hulman's Pond)- it is only accessible by boat, so there were just a handful of people there. I relaxed in the sun and Cam went for a swim in waters that were much shallower- and therefore warmer- than the main lake. Here he is chasing a family of ducks :).
Finally, we loaded all our stuff up properly in the boat (AKA- back in the relatively-waterproof bag), and forged across a now very-choppy lake Ontario to return our canoe. FYI- if you ever are boating in the channel...please slow down around canoes! I swear 2 water taxis were TRYING to swamp us. Thankfully we did not tip, but I was very sore and tired from fighting the waves by the time we returned! I think we were canoeing from 10:30am to 4pm, with only a few short breaks. My shoulders and back were not happy campers regardless.
We had a lot of fun on our adventure and I can't believe it took me so long to canoe here! I got to see so many parts of the islands that you would never see on foot and we had so much fun. If the thought of crossing the channel scares you, you can also rent canoes and kayaks on the islands- the water around there is very smooth and the boats all go super slow so it is quite safe for beginners.
The islands are definitely one of my favourite parts of the city, so check them out if you are ever in town!
PS- I recommend taking a water taxi over (unless you wanna paddle over yourself!). The water taxi's are $10 vs $7.25 for the main ferry, but there is never a line and they come often. Cam and I take ours from the foot of Spadina St and I swear every time we just walk down and get right on one that will take you to any of the three different docks of the islands. Also, of the taxi services is Tiki themed and amazing. Then we just return on the main ferry- which is free for returning to the city. But now I think you can finally buy tickets for the main ferry online in advance, so it may not be so bad now!