Toronto's Best-Kept Secret: The Beauty of Fall & Winter on the Toronto Islands

Friendly Islanders share their favourite tips for enjoying the spectacular natural setting, once the daytrippers vamoose and the mercury starts to drop.

By Angela Walcott

Most Torontonians know that in the summer months the Toronto Islands offer a perfect escape from the hustle and bustle of big city living.

Fall and winter bring gorgeous natural light to the Toronto Islands.

But, with the warm summer quickly becoming a distant memory, many will be surprised at what the fall and winter months hold in store. It’s true, the Jack Layton Ferry Terminal operates year-round – and autumn and winter on the island may just be the city’s best-kept secret. We’ve asked some artistically-inclined Islanders to give us the inside scoop on what to do, what to see, and how to stay creative when the days get shorter.

Jamie Shannon straps on ice skates to skate along the frozen lagoon.

Professional puppeteer Jamie Shannon takes full advantage of frozen temperatures to strap on his ice skates for a leisurely skate around the island’s lagoon. “Cross-country skiing is great here [too] because of the flat terrain,” says Shannon. “The natural surroundings encourage great clarity, with no stores around to buy things.”  Shannon keeps his workshop on the Island at Artscape Gibraltar Point and finds the surroundings add focus to his life because there are no distractions or places to distract.

He finds that the challenge of a ferry ride from civilization encourages him to think differently. The Island is North America’s largest car-free urban community, so no cars and no traffic become a good thing. “It’s almost the pioneer lifestyle,” says Shannon. He admits that he didn’t imagine the magic and beauty of the Islands at first, but he soon realized its wonder. And its wildlife! Blue herons, swans, cranes, wild turkey, fox, mink, beavers and yes, even a pack of coyotes have appeared long after summer visitors have left.

Luisa Milan  is a textile artist who has called the Toronto Islands home for the past 34 years and works occasionally as a chef at Artscape Gibraltar Point. Originally from Switzerland, Milan didn’t know anyone when she arrived in Toronto.


Hop on the ferry to Ward Island. Rent a bike for the day or stroll along paths framed with magnificent autumnal foliage.

Capture a moment. Pack a camera and art supplies. You have the best view of the city skyline from the islands.

Explore the islands on cross-country skis.

Skate along the lagoon. It’s great exercise!

Download free maps and take a self-guided Toronto Island Tree Tour.

Watch ice sailing in all its splendour. If you’re lucky, some locals might even take you out on a spin.

Grab a bite at the Rectory Cafe. Also home to an art gallery where local artists’ work is displayed monthly.

She had no expectations but immediately fell in love with the Toronto Islands.

“It was like walking into a picture book,” she says. “And it’s so close to the main city.”  Everything was new to her then. Even today, she pays special attention to her surroundings while outside on walks, and marvels at the transformation during the seasons. Milan’s studio is situated here, where she specializes in freehand machine embroidery: she paints with her machine. “The solitude enhances my artistic process through the environment.”

Another aspect of the islands that Milan is drawn to is the sense of community.  “Living in a small community defined by landscape means that people are closer,” says Milan. “You know everyone and we help each other.”

With off-season rates and gorgeous natural surroundings, the fall and winter months are a great time to explore the Toronto Islands with Artscape Gibraltar Point. Learn more about short-stay accommodations and studio rentals available to artists and creative types all year round...




Artscape Gibraltar Point
443 Lakeshore Ave., Toronto Island Toronto, ON
43° 36' 46.44" N, 79° 23' 2.436" W