A Bicycle Tour to the Toronto Islands

Sometimes you get hooked on an activity, and exploring Toronto by bike has become one of these pastimes for me. Not only is it great exercise, but it’s also an awesome way to explore the nooks and crannies of any destination. To share my enthusiasm I conscripted my friend Mario on a Thursday evening after work and persuaded him to come on a cycling trip with me.

So we met up in the Taylor Creek Park system, away from Toronto’s busy streets and started our ride, heading westwards towards the Don Valley. We turned southwards and got on the main north-south bicycle trail that is wedged between the Don Valley Parkway and the slowly flowing Don River, one of two main rivers in Toronto.

A view from the Don Valley bicycle trail

In my opinion, Toronto is an amazingly cycleable city, it has about 40 km of bicycle lanes on city streets and about 125 km of paved bicycle paths. What makes Toronto really unique is a network of ravines that cross the city from north to south, most of which feature bicycle trails. We cycled underneath the Leaside Bridge, crossed Pottery Road and stopped briefly underneath the Bloor Viaduct, originally named the Prince Edward Viaduct System which connects Bloor Street on the west with Danforth Avenue across the valley of the Don River.

The Don Valley, seemingly miles away from the big city

The Bloor Viaduct is 494 metres long and stands as high as 40 metres above the Don Valley. The top level of the bridge features six lanes of traffic, and the second deck holds tracks for Toronto’s subway system. In recent years the Bloor Viaduct has been equipped with an expensive suicide barrier to prevent people from jumping off the bridge. The Bloor Street Viaduct ranked as the second most fatal free standing structure in the world, after San Francisco’s Golden Gate Bridge. Since the completion of the C$ 5.5 million suicide barrier in 2003, also referred to as the ‘Luminuous Veil, there have not been any suicides at all, and the distinction of Canada’s leading suicide site has moved to the Jacques Cartier Bridge in Montreal.

Three geese would like to be fed

A few hundred metres further south along the trail we stopped on a narrow bridge and admired the northward and southward view of the Don River. It sometimes amazes me that there is so much nature right in the middle of a big metropolis such as Toronto. Three Canada geese were sitting right next to the pathway and were being fed by passersby, an example of nature right smack dab in the middle of a city.

The Canary Restaaurant

Since the bicycle path is blocked off south of Queen Street for renovations, we had to carry our bikes a few flights of stairs up to the deck of the Queen Street Bridge from where we continued riding into the downtown east side of Toronto. We turned south on Cherry Street and stopped to admire one of the local landmarks: the Canary Restaurant, located in an unrenovated Victorian brick building at the intersection of Front and Cherry Streets. The signed said “closed”, but I wasn’t sure whether this venerable institution was closed down permanently or just shut for the day.

The Distillery Districit

Our next destination was the Distillery District on Mill Street, a complex of 44 restored Victorian-era industrial heritage buildings that has been turned into one of Toronto’s most popular entertainment districts. This area was originally the Gooderham and Worts distillery, founded in 1832, which became the largest distillery in the world by the 1860s. Industrial activity declined in the area in the 20th century and by the early 1990s it was run down and derelict.

The Distillery District

A group of real estate developers purchased the site in 1990 and successfully transformed it into the best-preserved collection of Victorian-era industrial buildings in North America. Today the Distillery District holds a wide assortment of restaurants, cafes, galleries, unique retail stores and even a theatre. It has been used as a location for more than 800 film and television productions including Chicago, Cinderella Man, Tommy Boy, the Fixer and X Men.

The Distillery District

After heading south on Parliament Street we connected onto the bicycle lanes on Queens Quay to our next destination: the Toronto Ferry Terminal at the foot of Bay Street. The Toronto Islands are a chain of small islands situated off downtown and they provide a welcome escape from the hustle and bustle of the city. At a price of C$6 per roundtrip ticket, a ferry ride to the Toronto Islands provides an affordable getaway into a much more peaceful and quiet environment.

A look back at Toronto from the ferry

Interestingly, the Toronto islands were originally a narrow peninsula composed of sand that had drifted down from the Scarborough Bluffs. In 1858 however, water broke through in a violent storm and started the formation of the “Eastern Gap””, today the entrance into Toronto’s harbour. Hurricane Hazel also affected the topographical appearance of the islands and created several smaller islands. The creation of the Leslie Street spit with fill from the excavation work for the Toronto subway system stopped the deposition of additional sediment; however, concrete-reinforced shorelines limit natural erosion.

Looking at the Ward’s Island ferry docks

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