March 26, 2021

Visiting the Toronto Islands During the Pandemic - What You Need to Know

Now that spring is in the air, we are craving ways to get outside, safely. And if you live in the Toronto-area, a visit to the Toronto Islands may be on your list. But how has visiting the Islands changed during the pandemic? Read on to learn what you need to know about visiting the Toronto Islands during the pandemic.

What You Need to Know About Visiting the Toronto Islands During the Pandemic

Back at the beginning March, we decided we were in need of an outdoor adventure. With the weather in our favour, we booked tickets to visit the Toronto Islands. Complete with a picnic lunch on Ward's Island Beach, it was a pretty special day - and just what our mental and physical health needed after months of isolation. 

If you have never heard of the Toronto Islands, you're missing out. They are truly a hidden gem of the city. 

But what exactly are they? And where are they located?

The Toronto Islands are a chain of 15 small islands in Lake Ontario, south of mainland Toronto, Ontario, Canada. Comprising the only group of islands in the western part of Lake Ontario, the Toronto Islands are located just offshore from the city's downtown area and provide shelter for Toronto Harbour.

FUN FACT for all you baseball fans - in the 1890s-1910 a baseball stadium with capacity for 10,000 spectators was built on the west side of the Islands. Babe Ruth hit his first professional home run here.

What to Know About Visiting the Toronto Islands During the Pandemic

As the weather continues to get nicer and nicer, no doubt the Islands will get busier and busier, bringing up concerns for visitors' safety during the current state

From the IG stories I shared about our day on the Islands, I had a few questions regarding how visiting has changed during the global pandemic and under currently provincial health and safety measures. Here is what you need to know, as stated on the City of Toronto website AND based on our own personal experience. 

What You Need to Know About Visiting the Toronto Islands During the Pandemic 

From the City of Toronto Website

Under current provincial lockdown measures to reduce the spread of COVID-19, physical distancing is required when using City of Toronto parks and squares. At the time date of post publication, these are some of the COVID health and safety protocols in place when visiting the Toronto Islands via ferry.

  • The ferry service is operating at half capacity and on a reduced winter schedule.
  • Passengers are required to wear masks or face coverings.
  • Washrooms on the ferry are closed. Washrooms are open at the Jack Layton Ferry Terminal (downtown Toronto side) and on Toronto Island Park
  • Before using the ferry, every visitor must do the Ontario Ministry of Health self-assessment for COVID-19. If they do not pass the assessment, they should not board the ferry.
Please note, some attractions and areas on the Islands are not operating until further notice, including Centreville, Far Enough Farm and Toronto Island Camps. The Boat House and Tram Tours are also closed until further notice. Permitted activity is currently not allowed on the Island.

Ferries leave the city from the Jack Layton Ferry Terminal, located at the foot of Bay Street at Queens Quay. During the winter schedule (late-October/early November until mid-April), the ferry goes to Ward’s Island only. Some facilities may be closed. 

The current schedule can be found here

What to Know About Visiting the Toronto Islands During the Pandemic

From Our Experience

  • Tickets must be booked online in advance and are only good for the day on the ticket. Limited number of tickets sold per day to reduce crowding on the islands.
  • Self-screening is in place prior to boarding.
  • No clear social distancing markers in the boarding area. (If you've tried to board the ferry on a normal day, it's a cluster, like herding cattle into a squeeze. Despite knowing you should keep 6 feet apart, people were still crowding to get on.)
  • Masks are mandatory on board the ferry. (And frankly, that shouldn't be a surprise.)
  • The ferry schedule is modified. Only the open-air vehicle ferry is currently running to and from Ward's Island (the residential, east side). (We were on the winter schedule at the time of visiting, so this could change come mid-April.)
  • The ferry service is operating at half capacity
    • *This was our biggest complaint of the whole trip. While staff did take time to sanitize the ferry before disembarking (we watched them do this with a sprayer prior to heading back to "mainland"), we felt that it was still too crowded to possibly be at half capacity. Additionally, people tend to crowd on the outside of the boat to take photos of the Toronto skyline (guilty). 
  • While I cannot comment on the washrooms onboard, the two small indoor seating areas on the open air ferries were open. Windows were cracked for ventilation
  • Washrooms were open on the Island. Other facilities, such as food, were limited. Attractions were all closed.
What to Know About Visiting the Toronto Islands During the Pandemic

Recommendations Based on Our Experience

  • Bring a cooler and blanket for a picnic lunch. Before heading to the ferry terminal, we highly recommend stopping off at the St Lawrence Market to pick up your picnic supplies. (Please keep in mind, St Lawrence Market also has their own set of protocols in place, and there will likely be a lineup to get in.)
  • Bring your own hand sanitizer. You will be outside majority of the time, but it is not widely available on the Islands. 
  • Go early to avoid peak times. 
  • Once disembarking on Ward's Island, head straight to Ward's Beach (follow the signs, a few minutes walk). Public washrooms are located near the beach. (It was also significantly warmer on this side of the island than the north, city side).
  • Dogs are welcome to take the ferry and explore the Island, as long as they remain on a leash. 
  • Have fun! 
  • Oh, and don't forget your masks. 
What to Know About Visiting the Toronto Islands During the Pandemic

Sometimes its easy to forget that isolation doesn't mean you have to stay indoors. The outdoors is good for your immune system and even better for your mental health.

Take the dog for a walk. Dust off the bikes. Turn on your favourite podcast and take a stroll around the block. Or, plan your visit to the Toronto Islands.

As the weather gets nicer, there's not excuses - just GET OUTSIDE.

You may also like:
5 Ways to Get Outdoors in Toronto

I'd love to hear - - What are the outdoor "hidden gems" where you call home? Have you visited the Toronto Islands, or do you have plans to this spring/summer?


What You Need to Know About Visiting the Toronto Islands During the Pandemic

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