Toronto Island ferries

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Toronto Island ferries
OSM-Toronto Islands with labels.png
Labelled map of the Toronto Islands
Locale Toronto, Ontario, Canada
Waterway Toronto Inner Harbour
(Lake Ontario)
Transit type Ferry
Operator Toronto Parks, Forestry and Recreation Division
PortsToronto (Toronto Port Authority)
Began operation 1883
System length City Docks to Centre - 2km
City Docks to Hanlan's - 2km
City Docks to Ward's - 1.7 km
Western Gap - 190m
No. of lines 4
No. of vessels 8
No. of terminals 6
Daily ridership 75,000

The Toronto Island ferries connect the Toronto Islands in Lake Ontario to the mainland of Toronto, Ontario, Canada. The main ferry service carries passengers and vehicles from Jack Layton Ferry Terminal at the foot of Bay Street to several docks on the islands. Another ferry carries passengers and vehicles to Billy Bishop Toronto City Airport on the island from the foot of Eireann Quay. Private ferries carry passengers to various island boat clubs. Ferry services to the islands began in 1833, and the Toronto Island Ferry company began in 1883.


The privately owned Hiawatha (1900) and Kwasind (1912) take members to the Royal Canadian Yacht Club.

There are four public ferries to the islands. Three of these ferry services serve the island parks and Ward's Island, while the fourth serves the island airport. Beside the public ferry services, several yacht clubs and marinas located on the islands provide private ferry services for their members and guests.[1][2][3] Private water taxi services are available from locations along the waterfront.

The Parks, Forestry and Recreation Division of the City of Toronto operates three public ferries to Hanlan's Point, Centre Island Park and Ward's Island from Jack Layton Terminal at the foot of Bay Street on the central Toronto waterfront. During spring and fall, the ferries operate on a 45-minute round trip. During summer months, the ferries make a round trip each half-hour. During the winter months, ferries serve Ward's Island at longer intervals, and Hanlan's Point only as needed to deliver or pick up vehicles.[4] Fares vary from $3.72 per child to $7.72 per adult and monthly passes are available.[5]

PortsToronto operates a free vehicle and passenger ferry from Eireann Quay at the foot of Bathurst Street to the island airport every 15 minutes during airport operating hours. There is no public access between the airport and the rest of the island chain.[6]


The first ferry to cross Toronto Harbour to what are now the Toronto Islands was in 1833, using a boat called Sir John of the Peninsular. This was a four-horse team boat, operated by Michael O'Connor, between York and his hotel on the island (then still a peninsula).[7] At this time, persons could still access the peninsula from a road to the east of York, crossing over the Don.[8] In 1835, the hotel came under new management and the first steam-powered ferry to the hotel, the Toronto was inaugurated.[8] However, the steamboat was removed from service and sold and the horse boat reinstated. Popularity of the peninsula increased and in 1836, the city established a toll gate on the road, charging sixpence for every four-wheeled carriage drawn by two horses and other tolls for smaller carriages, wagons or riders.[8]

In 1843, the Peninsular Packet, a converted steamboat, which was propelled by paddle wheels driven by horses was pressed into service for the hotel.[8] In 1853, the hotel came under new management again, that of John Quinn. Quinn introduced another steam ferry, the Victoria. Competition for the ferry business came the next year when Robert Moodie introduced his own the steam ferry, the Bob Moodie. Quinn responded with another vessel, the Welland, another steam ferry.[9] In 1857, Moodie added the Lady Head steam vessel.[10] A vicious storm hit the island on April 13, 1858, destroying Quinn's hotel and the Parkinson's hotel and creating a 500-yard (460 m)-wide eastern gap making the previous peninsula an island.[10]

Throughout the rest of the 19th-century, the popularity of the Island increased. With no links to the mainland, ferries proliferated, with most being paddle steamers operated by individual owners. Eventually two competing ferry companies came into being: the Turner Ferry Company and A.J. Tymon's Island Ferry Company. The assets of the Turner Ferry Company were bought by the John Doty Engine & Ferry Company, which in turn merged with A.J. Tymon's Island Ferry Company in 1892 to form the Toronto Ferry Company.[11][12]

In 1906 and 1910, the Toronto Ferry Company built two double-decked, double-ended paddle steamers, with a capacity of 1,450 passengers. They were named Bluebell and Trillium. They were retired in 1955 and 1957 respectively, but Trillium survived and re-entered service in 1976. It is operated by the Great Lakes Schooner Company for corporate and private functions, and for ferry runs throughout the summer. It is now 100 years old.[13][14][15]

The Toronto Ferry Company continued to operate the ferry services until 1926, when its services and fleet was purchased by the City of Toronto for CA$337,500[16] ($4.71 million in 2016 dollars)[17]. In February 1927, the city transferred the eight-boat fleet to the Toronto Transportation Commission (TTC, later renamed the Toronto Transit Commission), the body that operates the city's transit system.[16] The three double-ended, diesel-engined and screw-driven ferries that form the backbone of today's service to the islands were built for the TTC. The William Inglis was built in 1935, the Sam McBride in 1939, and the Thomas Rennie in 1951.[18]

In 1938 the Toronto Harbour Commission began operating a ferry service to the new Toronto Island Airport, then under construction. A scow was adapted for use as a cable ferry, with the intention that this ferry would operate for a five-year period. However the scow remained in service for 25 years before being replaced by the ferry Maple City. The backup ferry Windmill Point was acquired in 1985 and a new replacement ferry, TCCA1, in 2006.[19] The Port Authority subsequently purchased another ferry, the Marilyn Bell 1.

On January 1, 1962, the ferry services operated by the TTC were transferred to Metro Toronto Parks and Culture, a department of the then Municipality of Metropolitan Toronto. In 1966 there was a proposal to replace the ferries with high speed hovercrafts but failed to gain political interest.[20] In 1997 the metropolitan municipality was merged with its member municipalities, becoming the enlarged City of Toronto, and the park ferry services became the responsibility of city's Department of Parks and Recreation. In 2005, responsibility for these services was transferred to the city's Parks, Forestry and Recreation Division, where it remains. The airport ferry is the responsibility of PortsToronto.


List of ferries[21]
Vessel BuilderA OperatorB Acquired Retired Capacity TypeC Notes
Luella WAC, JDE TuF, TFC, TTC 1880 1934 122 passengers SESD paddle steamer Accidentally scrapped 1934.
Mayflower BSW JDE, TFC, TTC 1890 1938 900–1,000 passengers DEDD paddle steamer After retirement converted into a barge. Sister ship to Primrose.
Primrose BSW JDE, TFC, TTC 1890 1938 900–1,000 passengers DEDD paddle steamer After retirement converted into a barge. Sister ship to Mayflower.
Ned Hanlan TDC TFC, TTC, MPR 1932 1966 Harbour tug Launched in 1932. Used to provide winter ferry service for island residents. Named for local rowing legend Ned Hanlan, brother-in-law of Lawrence Solman, owner of the Toronto Ferry Company. Now displayed at Hanlan's Point.
Bluebell PIW TFC, TTC 1906 1955 1,450 passengers DEDD paddle steamer Retired 1955 and stripped down and used by Metro Toronto Works Department as a garbage scow (barge). Its hull is part of the breakwall at Tommy Thompson Park near the Eastern Gap. Sister ship of Trillium.
Trillium PIW TFC, TTC, MPC, TPR 1910 (1957), active Originally 1,450; reduced to 955 DEDD paddle steamer Sister ship to the Bluebell. Retired in 1957 and stored next to Island Water Filtration Plant, but re-entered service in 1976 after being refurbished.[13] Sister ship of Bluebell.
Miss York TFC, TTC 1918 1929 Burned 1929?
Miss Simcoe TFC, TTC 1918 1929 Possibly named for Elizabeth Simcoe, the wife of John Graves Simcoe. Burned 1929.
Clark Bros. TFC, TTC 1890 1927 Named for Tom (T.J.) Clark; burned in 1930 at Sunnyside Park.[22]
John Hanlan Abbey TFC, TTC 1918 1927 Named for Toronto Island hotel keeper John Hanlan, father of Ned Hanlan and father-in-law of Lawrence Solman, owner of the Toronto Ferry Company; burned 1929.
T.J. Clark CL & PIW TFC, TTC, MPR 1911 1930 Wooden screw ferry Named for Tom "T.J." Clark, co-operator of wooden screw ferry that began service in 1890.[22] Operated as ferry from 1911 to 1927; sold to City of Toronto and operated by the TTC. Decommissioned 1959 and sold to Toronto Drydock Company Ltd.; scrapped by 1961.
Aylmer TFC, TTC 1918 1929
Buttercup TFC, TTC 1918 1929
Jasmine TFC, TTC 1918 1929 Renamed Ojiboway. Burned 1929.
William Inglis TDC & JIC TTC, MPC, TPR 1935 active 400 passengers DEDD diesel screw Named after William Inglis, head of local appliance manufacturer John Inglis and Sons.[23][24]
Sam McBride TDC & JIC TTC, MPC, TPR 1939 active 1,000 passengers - reduced to 524 and then to 736 due to upgrades to bulkhead and engines in 2011[25] DEDD diesel screw Named after former Toronto Mayor and alderman Sam McBride.[18][26]
Thomas Rennie TDC & JIC TTC, MPC, TPR 1951 active 1,000 passengers - reduced to 524 and then to 736 due to upgrades to bulkhead and engines in 2011[25] DEDD diesel screw Named after former Toronto Harbour Commissioner Thomas Rennie.[18][27]
Ongiara RB TTC, MPC, TPR 1960 active 220 passengers, 10 cars or 8 trucks DESD diesel screw Used to provide winter service and to carry service vehicles. Repowered in November 2006.[28]
Maple City TPA/PT 1964 active 40 passengers and 6 cars DESD diesel screw Operates to the island airport. Built 1951 by Muir Brothers Dock Yard [29] for Prescott-Ogdensburg ferry service.[30]
Windmill Point KS TPA/PT 1954 active 207 passengers DESD diesel Based in Amherstburg, Ontario, it operates to the island airport when Maple City is out of service.[31] Purchased by the Toronto Harbour Commission in 1985 and stored at Keating Channel when not in service.[32]
David Hornell , formerly TCCA1 HMP TPA/PT 2006 active DEDD diesel Operates to the island airport. Original name was an acronym of Toronto City Centre Airport 1.[33] Now named for Toronto-born RCAF pilot and World War II ace Flt-Lt. David Hornell (1910-1944).
Marilyn Bell 1, formerly TCCA2 HMP TPA/PT 2009 active Operates to the island airport. Original name was an acronym of Toronto City Centre Airport 2.[34] Renamed for Toronto-born long distant swimmer Marilyn Bell.

In popular culture[edit]

Allan Moak’s children’s book A Big City ABC prominently displays an illustration of the Toronto Island Ferry, Sam McBride on its cover.[35] It was also featured as "Flo and Merriweather" in Mighty Machines. The band Great Lake Swimmers named their album Ongiara after the ferry.[36]


Ferry landing at Hanlan's Point in 1908.
Ward's Island Docks
David Hornell airport ferry at the airport dock

With the exception of the Jack Layton Ferry Terminal, no other docks are enclosed and consist merely of a series of metal fences and ramps.

Jack Layton Ferry Terminal[edit]

The Jack Layton Ferry Terminal is located at the foot of Bay Street on the mainland and consists of four piers. They are located in the enclosed main docks, and the last pier is an open area to the east for the larger Trillium ferry boat. Toronto Fire Services fireboat William Lyon Mackenzie shares the dock spaces. During winter months the ferries (other than Trillium) are stored here with upper decks covered with a tarp. Trillium is stored at nearby Yonge Street Slip. The docks were once home the fireboat William Lyon Mackenzie. The original docks were located on the east side of the THC Building at Bay and Harbour Streets. When the infilling took place after 1918 the docks moved to Queen's Quay West of Bay Street (now site of Harbour Square condos) before being moved to the east to the current location. The Toronto City Council voted unanimously to rename the terminal in honour of late New Democratic Party leader and former Toronto City Councillor Jack Layton.[37]

Hanlan's Point Docks[edit]

Hanlan's Point Dock is located to the west next to the island airport; open boarding area consists of three piers. There are washrooms and a snack bar nearby. The tugboat Ned Hanlan is located nearby. Hanlan's Point used to be called Gibraltar Point, and from 1794 to 1813 it was home to a British Army fortification or battery (storehouses and guardhouse), then a blockhouse from 1814 to 1823.[38]

Centre Island Docks[edit]

Centre Island Docks is on Island Park and consists of two piers. There are washrooms, a Shopsy's deli and a Pizza Pizza nearby. There is no winter service from this dock. Newly covered area was added to provide additional shelter space.

Ward's Island Docks[edit]

Ward's Island Docks is on Ward's Island to the east; an open boarding area consists of a single pier.

Airport ferry[edit]

The Western Gap is at the foot of Eireann Quay and consists of a single pier. Parking is available for cars not crossing to the Island. The Island Airport Dock is at the north end of the island airport and consists of a single pier and a loading ramp. These two docks are used by the Toronto Port Authority.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "tender and schedules". Queen City Yacht Club. Retrieved March 18, 2008. 
  2. ^ "Launch Schedule". Royal Canadian Yacht Club. Archived from the original on February 26, 2008. Retrieved March 18, 2008. 
  3. ^ "Water Tender Schedule". Toronto Island Marina. Retrieved March 18, 2008. 
  4. ^ "Toronto Island Park". City of Toronto. Retrieved March 13, 2008. 
  5. ^ "Ferry Schedules and Fares". City of Toronto. Retrieved May 3, 2017. 
  6. ^ "Toronto City Centre Airport Facts". Toronto Port Authority. Archived from the original on March 10, 2010. Retrieved March 13, 2008. 
  7. ^ Filey 2010, pp. 16–17.
  8. ^ a b c d Filey 2010, p. 18.
  9. ^ Filey 2010, p. 19.
  10. ^ a b Filey 2010, p. 21.
  11. ^ Partridge, Larry (March 1976). "Toronto Island Ferry History: the Beginning". Retrieved March 14, 2003. 
  12. ^ "Prominent Men of the Great Lakes — Capt. Andrew J. Tymon". The Globe, Toronto. January 1, 1898. Retrieved March 14, 2008. 
  13. ^ a b "Trillium". Canadian Transportation Agency. March 8, 2006. Retrieved March 18, 2008. 
  14. ^ "Hail to the Trillium". Scanner. Toronto Marine Historical Society. Summer 1976. Retrieved November 21, 2008. 
  15. ^ "The Elegant Paddle Steamer". The Great Lakes Schooner Company. Archived from the original on March 27, 2012. Retrieved November 21, 2008. 
  16. ^ a b Filey 2010, p. 26.
  17. ^ Canadian inflation numbers based on Statistics Canada. "Consumer Price Index, historical summary". CANSIM, table (for fee) 326-0021 and Catalogue nos. 62-001-X, 62-010-X and 62-557-X. And Consumer Price Index, by province (monthly) (Canada) Last modified 2017-07-21. Retrieved July 28, 2017
  18. ^ a b c Partridge, Larry (March 1976). "Toronto Island Ferry History: The Modern Fleet: 1935 - 1960". Retrieved March 14, 2003. 
  19. ^ "Toronto City Centre Airport: A History". Toronto Port Authority. Archived from the original on March 6, 2008. Retrieved March 14, 2008. 
  20. ^
  21. ^ Partridge, Larry (March 1976). "Toronto Island Ferry History: Fleet List". Retrieved March 14, 2003. 
  22. ^ a b "Archived copy". Archived from the original on July 6, 2011. Retrieved July 31, 2009. 
  23. ^ Filey, Mike (1998). Discover and Explore Toronto's Waterfront. Dundurn Press Ltd. p. 123. ISBN 1-55002-304-7. 
  24. ^ "William Inglis". Canadian Transportation Agency. March 8, 2006. Retrieved March 18, 2008. 
  25. ^ a b Niamh Scallan (July 5, 2012). "Toronto Islands ferry passenger limits eased". Toronto: Toronto Star. Archived from the original on July 9, 2012. Retrieved April 30, 2015. Although the new passenger limits kicked in this spring, the trouble with Toronto’s aging ferry fleet began in 2008 when Transport Canada ordered the city to upgrade three boats — the William Inglis and Sam McBride, both built in the 1930s, and the Thomas Rennie, built in 1951. ... But what Transport Canada failed to tell parks staff, he said, was that the upgrades could cause the boats to lose their grandfathered status, which exempts the aging vessels from current marine safety standards. 
  26. ^ "Sam McBride". Canadian Transportation Agency. March 8, 2006. Retrieved March 18, 2008. 
  27. ^ "Thomas Rennie". Canadian Transportation Agency. March 8, 2006. Archived from the original on July 6, 2011. Retrieved March 18, 2008. 
  28. ^ "Ongiara". Canadian Transportation Agency. March 8, 2006. Retrieved March 18, 2008. 
  29. ^ "Details for registered vessel MAPLE CITY (O.N. 176000)". Retrieved August 3, 2016. 
  30. ^ "Maple City". Canadian Transportation Agency. March 8, 2006. Retrieved March 18, 2008. 
  31. ^ "Windmill Point". Canadian Transportation Agency. March 8, 2006. Retrieved March 18, 2008. 
  32. ^ "Vessel Registration Query System". December 16, 2009. Retrieved July 29, 2011. 
  33. ^ "Improved Access to the TCCA". Toronto Port Authority. January 12, 2007. Retrieved March 27, 2008. 
  34. ^ "Archived copy" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on December 1, 2010. Retrieved August 27, 2010. 
  35. ^ "Arts and Culture - Living In Toronto | City of Toronto". Retrieved August 3, 2016. 
  36. ^ Fiander, Matthew (June 4, 2007). "Great Lake Swimmers, Ongiara". Reviews. PopMatters. Retrieved March 15, 2016. Well, as it turns out, Ongiara is the name of a boat that would ferry the band to where they first recorded. 
  37. ^ "Toronto ferry terminal to be renamed in honour of Jack Layton". CBC News. June 6, 2012. 
  38. ^ "Gibraltar Point Historical Plaque". January 1, 2016. Retrieved August 3, 2016.