I spent my childhood on Vancouver Island, and almost all family vacations started with a ferry ride to the mainland. Just sitting on the deck, watching Victoria get further and further away in the distance, made my family and I feel like modern day explorers in search of adventure. There was always something blissful, though, about coming back home. When you’re from an island, being surrounded by water feels innately like sanctuary.
I left the island when I was almost 13 for Montreal and while Montreal itself is technically an island, bridges and overpasses always got in the way when I tried to imagine the sense of refuge that only a truly isolated place can provide. That’s why, after moving to Toronto just over a year ago, I’ve been slightly obsessed with Toronto Island. Just knowing that’s there’s a land mass surrounded by the moat that is Lake Ontario, a place where I can totally escape the city if need be, gives me a little peace of mind every day. I’ve taken the ferry over often, just to sit on the shoreline and put distance between me and the stresses of life that somehow seem attached to the city itself. Maybe it’s the island kid in me that believes you can physically distance yourself from worries if there’s no actual bridge to where they exist. Or maybe it’s just the idea that, when your eye can take in the whole city – where it seems to start, peak and end – from a distance, it doesn’t seem that big or impossible after all.
It’s been a goal of mine to spend the night on the Toronto Islands, to relive that childhood feeling of going to bed at night knowing there’s a body of water between me and what feels like the rest of the world. I took the ferry over one Monday morning this summer with a friend to Centre Island. We spent the day renting electric boats shaped like swans, taking in the view of Toronto from the top of the Ferris wheel and going on an antique carousel ride at Centreville Amusement Park. It may have seemed childlike at first, but then you remember that kids take rides because, simply put, they’re stupid fun.
We stopped by Far Enough Farms, petting everything from horses, sheep and cows to goats, pigs and emus. It’s easy to forget as grownups that the world is such a fascinating place, full of ridiculously awesome animals right in our own backyard. How rock n’ roll are emus, anyway? I can hear them singing, “Baby, I was born this way,” right now. I didn’t pass up an opportunity to rub the belly of Charlotte, the farm’s over 700-lb pig. After hearing her snort in enjoyment, it occurred to me that I should just forget about yoga and spend more time zenning out with chill and cool-looking animals instead. Sure, humans are weird enough, but I get sick of them sometimes, don’t you?
We grabbed burgers at Carousel Café before renting a bicycle built for two to tour Centre Island in full. Bathers waded in the lake, couples strolled together hand-in-hand and more ambitious cyclists and rollerbladers took advantage of the bike paths. I said good-bye to my friend before finding my way to Ward’s Island to spend the night at Smiley’s B&B. Run by David Smiley and his wife, Ellen, the B&B was actually booked solid every weekend until September, though weekday nights are still available. When I arrived at the Smiley residence, I forgot to introduce myself properly as the writer who would be staying with them for the night. David and his wife showed me around and answered my questions about Ward’s Island, just assuming I was a passerby interested in knowing more. Their genuine kindness reminded me of folks back in Victoria; generous with information and sincerely appreciative of anyone else who cares for island life.
I went to bed that night knowing I’d have to wake up and face the ferry back to the city in the morning, but I left my computer and all the work I brought with me in my bag. I could deal with it all the next day. I just felt like calling my Mom and telling her all about my day and reminiscing about childhood because, sure, no man is an island, but sometimes it takes an island to help remind us about what matters.