The very best Toronto swim I've ever had

Wednesday, August 15, 2018


I grew up a short bike ride from Lake Ontario and we'd go to the Island every summer. We were swimmers, my whole family, but never once did we venture into the lake. Growing up, we were told you'd grow an extra leg if you ever set foot in Lake Ontario.


BUT the water quality has totally changed since the 80s and there are the most beautiful blue flag beaches, and so, with tips from Toronto walker/swimmer/ Shawn Micallef, my family took the Hanlan's Point ferry, then walked and walked (and somehow got the baby to sleep), following the signs for the clothing optional beach. We ducked under a beautiful wooden arbour, then dragged the stroller through the sand (stroller was great for hauling all of our stuff and for doubling as a crib for the baby, but not ideal in the sand!). I had no idea there were dunes on the west side of the island, but there we were, in thick rolling sand. It felt like Sandbanks-lite. And then, poof, a lake that looked like an ocean, clear and blue, and stretching on for forever.



It was actually breathtaking. I had the seize the moment (the sleeping baby moment) and I hopped in. There wasn't much shade, so we set the baby up under the shadow of the lifeguard tower and got to work: my fella was skipping stones, the kiddo was looking for perfect rocks and I went swimming.

There's a huge sandbar so I swam out to the buoys and could still stand (!) and I swam and I swam – stroke-stroke-CN Tower, stroke-stroke-neverending ocean-like horizon. It still astounds me. It was hands down the best swim I've ever had in Toronto. The beach was nearly empty. We were right on the line between the clothing optional beach and the clothing mandatory beach and there were maaaaaaybe five people for as far as we could see.


I swam and swam, then laid on a towel and the kid piled rocks on me. When the baby woke up, we wandered over to Gibraltor Point for a picnic and let her get her feet wet, 'cause the only person who loves swimming more than me is Claire.

We then walked to Centreville and took the kids on their first amusement park ride – a twirl on the 112-year-old carousel! The kiddo named his lion "Nana Ruth" and the toddler hopped on a pig and was the happiest I've ever seen her (roller coasters, watch out!)


Some tips:
- Pack chips. We didn't. I still regret it.
- We took the UP train and walked from Union Station - it was a DREAM compared to the last time I did a trip to the Island with a stroller that involved a bus, two subways, and LRT, a ferry and too many stairs/broken elevators to count...
- If you can, go mid-week.
- If you're sans little kids, rent one of the multi-person bikes!
- A pal noted the water taxis are amazing if you have kids who can't handle lines (or if you're the kid who can't handle lines, no judgment!)
- If you do take the ferry (which I LOVE - the orange ceiling of stuffed-together life jackets, the view of the CN Tower from the upper deck, the sunscreen coated kids, etc etc), make sure you hop on Jack Layton's tandem bike. Makes me happy-teary every time.
- The walk from the Hanlan's Point ferry terminal is a bit far for young kids – it's about 1km, worth it, but I'm glad we brought the back pack carrier for the kiddo and the stroller for the toddler. I've heard there's a great swimmable beach really close to the Ward's Island ferry terminal - I'm going to try it next time!


I can't wait till the kids are old enough to get the four-person bikes!





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