Magical Ice Skating On Ward’s Island Lagoon in Toronto
One of our objectives when visiting Ward’s Island was to go ice skating on Lake Ontario! We had heard from a friend, a long-time resident on the Toronto Islands, that, over the years, rare opportunities had arisen when people could actually skate around sections of Toronto Harbour and perhaps, more dependably, on the ice of the frozen lagoons. Those occasions have been few and far between.
Bob and I had waited years for the conditions to be right, and with the winter of 2013 – 14 being brutally cold, the coldest in 20 years, the waterways between the Toronto Islands had turned into vast expanses of frozen ice. Even the Inner Harbour was frozen into a solid mass thanks to the spinning pool of freezing, dense Arctic air. Temperatures fell to unprecedented levels, and temperature records were broken across not only Ontario, but all of North America.
So, one winter, Bob and I set out to enjoy a day at Ward’s Island, and to be sure, we had our skates in tow. The sun was brilliant the morning we caught the ferry across the bay, but temperatures continued cold with a constant wind out of the east.
The largest ice surface available for skating was just a short distance west of the pier where the Ward’s Island ferry docks. Thanks to an industrious team of island residents, the rink was a good size, and was even partitioned off with a bank of snow across one end to allow young children their own private space.
Only a few other skaters were present on the ice skating rink, given that it was a work day, and after a short while, all but a couple of those people left for home.
The ice skating rink was on a section of Lake Ontario that technically is a part of the Inner Harbour. It occupied the narrow channel that extends between Ward’s Island and Algonquin Island where, during the warm months of the year, scores of slips are available for boats to moor. The jetties made for excellent benches that skaters could use when putting on or removing their footwear.
Bob and I chuckled when we saw the ingenious tools designed for clearing snow off the ice. They were tidily stored to one side of the rink, ready for the next snowfall.
Hockey sticks, obviously rendered useless because the blade was broken off, had been evened up and secured to sturdy metal sheets to fashion a wider than normal shovel. The clever inventions enabled a person to clear a broader swath of snow thus dispatching the tedious task more quickly.
It was great fun circling the rink as the surface of the ice was in excellent condition. We had to really dig in our heels when skating against the daunting east wind, but in turn, it gave us a great lift when gliding in the opposite direction. We were able to coast almost the entire length of the cleared ice all the while relishing the warm sunshine on our faces.
I was thrilled to have the opportunity of skating at the Toronto Islands. The location is charming, and we had Ward’s Island almost all to ourselves. The Ward’s Island community began as a vacation spot in the 1880s, and still today, the island remains car-free, and although the cottages have been modified for year-round occupancy, each one is unique and winsome. I almost felt like I had stepped back in time.
With the Toronto city skyline in the distance, there was no disputing the fact that we had skated on Lake Ontario. A month earlier, while we were vacationing in British Columbia, scores of people had been able to skate all over one very broad section of the Inner Harbour just off Algonquin Island. Perfect glassy, smooth conditions prevailed for a couple of weeks allowing people to skate in an area free of the confines of the islands. It was the best ice they’d had in 10 years.
It is hard to believe that, a century ago, fancy dress balls were held in pavilions on the frozen waters of Toronto Harbour every winter. Today, we can count ourselves lucky if Lake Ontario freezes hard enough between the islands and the mainland to permit the clearing of an ice rink or two. At least this winter has given us a taste of what once was normal winter conditions. And we are happy for it!
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