Island Hopping

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When you live in a new place, it's tempting to draw comparisons with the place you're more familiar with. Not so much in terms of a better-or-worse type comparison, but more as a way of being able to get a better grasp on the "lay-of-the-land" of the new place. For example, when we first got here, it was helpful to relate various suburbs to what might be thought of as their comparable suburb back in Sydney... you know, like is this area a Lane Cove or more of a Mount Druitt? (Apologies to any Sydneysiders reading this... I don't mean to diss on your suburb, but you know what I mean... Some areas have a totally different character than others.) For Sydneysiders, we've found that Toronto has its Vaucluse and Turramurra areas (for Torontoans, think Oakville), and it also has its fair share of Green Valley and Claymore suburbs too (Torontoans, think Jane and Finch). Again, I know that sounds really judgemental, but there's no denying that different areas have quite different characters.

With that in mind, how do I explain Centre Island? We were looking for something to do last Sunday and someone suggested Centre Island to us. I'm glad they did, it's a beautiful place! Again, using Sydney as a comparison, imagine taking a cross between Centennial Park, The Domain, Manly, a little bit of Darling Harbour, adding Bankstown Airport just for good measure, and putting the whole thing on an island and floating it just offshore of Sydney.

The Toronto Islands are located offshore of downtown Toronto, a short 15 minute ferry ride away into Lake Ontario. Consisting of Wards Island, Centre Island, Olympic Island, and a few other smaller islands, the place is quite an oasis - so close to the hustle and bustle of Toronto, but you could be anywhere. The islands are still in a fairly natural state, with lots of trees and waterways, and threaded with several kilometres of cycling and walking trails. It also has a small theme park for kids called Centreville, a couple of restaurants, plenty of grassy parklands, a marina, a small airport, as well as being home to about 100o people. As you can see, it's kind of hard to categorise as it's a little eclectic.

We caught the ferry on Sunday morning out to the Wards Island wharf. It was very busy at the ferry terminal, and we found out that the annual dragon boat races were being held on Centre Island, and there was quite a crowd heading out for the day. We took the enjoyable 3 km stroll from Wards wharf over to the Centre Island area, stopping in at the fire station along the way to chat to a very friendly firey. We also stopped to check out the dragon boat races - very lively! The kids got excited when we arrived at Centreville and spent some time on the rides... very cheesy, very expensive, but a bit of fun I suppose. We explored a bit more before having lunch at the Island Paradise restaurant, before catching the ferry back to the city and heading back to Oakville on the GO train.

We plan to go again with our bikes and spend a bit more time exporing the islands. Regardless of how you might try to categorise Toronto Islands, they are a real hidden gem of recreation in Canada's busiest city, and well worth a visit.

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