The Toronto Harbour Tour was a truly magical experience. Immersing myself into open water felt liberating and the bright blue sky made for a beautiful day. On the tour, I was able to see Toronto from a new perspective and I discovered many of the city’s hidden gems. From the Toronto Islands and historical landmarks to the natural ecosystems and wildlife, every view was different.
As the Oriole was docking, lines of people eagerly awaited to board. The Oriole is a fascinating vessel, and the Victorian era steamship style provided a lens on what boating in Toronto would have been like in the past. However, this feeling quickly disappeared as we sailed away from Toronto’s futuristic skyline that manifested itself in our view.
A Brief History
Onboard the Oriole, photographs were projected depicting the evolution of Toronto’s Waterfront. The black and white images showed the waterfronts development from a major industrial port in the 1800’s, to a lively recreational and tourism attraction, complimented by the CN tower, Sugar Beach and Rogers Centre. Although much has changed, the Redpath Sugar silo, which has been headquartered here since 1950 can still be seen from the shore receiving deliveries from Great Lake and ocean-going vessels.
During the voyage, many different historical landmarks were visible. Each one helped shape my understanding of the Toronto Harbour and all its dynamic parts.
Hanlan’s Point is one of the Toronto Islands, accessible by ferry. It’s named after John Hanlan, one of the Toronto Islands’ first year-round residents. Here visitors can play at the Centre Island amusement park, swim on sandy beaches or the nude beach (1 of only 2 in Canada!) and sail along the canals. The beach at Hanlans’ point along with Gibraltar Point beach have Blue Flag designation – an international mark of recognition for safe, environmentally friendly beaches with clean water. Through the trees, you could see a red and black tugboat. It dates back to 1932, when the shipping industry still ruled the waterfront in Toronto. This little tugboat guided big ships in and out of port.
GIBRALTAR POINT LIGHTHOUSE
Gibraltar Point Lighthouse is the first permanent lighthouse on the Great Lakes. It’s also Toronto’s oldest stone building, originally constructed in 1808. It was used as a lookout tower against American invaders during the war of 1812. According to a local legend, it’s also haunted. On moonless nights, rumor has it that you can hear the ghost of John Paul Radelmüllter, the first lighthouse keeper screaming inside the lighthouse. During the war of 1812, American soldiers chased Radelmüllter up the lighthouse where a gust of wind blew him over the rail to his death.
From the boat, the Toronto islands looked like a little community in the middle of the forest. There are actually 262 residential homes! Lush green trees surrounded picnickers and cyclists biked on trails that extended along most of the waterfront. Many other boaters passed by us and even some paddle borders. It was interesting to go from a fast-paced city life to such a calm and relaxing atmosphere in a matter of minutes. The outskirts of Toronto’s island are a sight to see in itself, but there’s even more to explore on the island!
Natural Ecosystems and Wildlife
The islands surrounding the harbour are mostly parkland surrounded by beautiful old trees. The ecosystems are untouched habitats that naturally maintain themselves. I could hear songbirds in the treetops and I even saw a swan! In a given year, you can see more than 200 species including blue herons, red fox, beavers and so much more. I definitely recommend bringing your binoculars.
Returning to the Shore
On our way back to shore, we emerged towards a picture perfect view of Toronto’s Iconic skyline. The CN tower, high rise buildings, skyscrapers and architectural masterpieces, framed by island greenery, all work together to create an innovative frontier that is a symbol of Canada as a whole.
Written by Kathleen Rodger, a Fourth year Communications Student at Ryerson University.