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Toronto Island Park Profile

Features: See articles below

Opening and closing dates:

Depends on the weather: see a video of figure-skating at the island from Blog TO

If you skate on ice above water, take along ice picks. Here's a good video of how an ice pick can help if you break through the ice, and what to do.

From island resident and rink diarist Alec Farquhar: If you haven’t skated on the Island before, please be aware that conditions change every day and through the day. You need to check with people who know the conditions and not skate alone. And get hold of some ice picks to ensure you can get out of the water if you fall through. It’s a thrilling thing to skate on natural ice. But there are currents, the warmth of the sun, and the moderating temperatures, all of which can make conditions more challenging. So be careful and bring your safety gear, and try to ensure that you understand the conditions and skate with people who are experienced out here.


Skating at Toronto Island at sunset, February 2021. Photo: Bella Beazer

Comments about this rink: e-mail us at [email protected].


Rink Diary

2020 - 2021

Feb.17, 2021

From Alec Farquhar: This may be the last ice report of the season. Most of the ice on the Island is already snow covered. And more snow is coming. And then the temperatures will start to rise.

So essentially the only skating would be cleared rinks.

There are also new hazards, because snow insulates the ice and you can get melt underneath. This means that you could be walking, skiing or skating through snow and not realize that there is a thin patch under the snow.

But it’s been a wonderful skating season and the skiing is great!

Feb.15, 2021

From Suhan Li: "I would like to know whether the ice conditions are favorable for skating today - I didn't see an update on the blog today or yesterday. Also would love to know which ferry has the best access to the skating areas as the information available online is limited."

Response from cityrinks: "We post occasionally, not every day, and just whatever people send us. In terms of the best ferry access -- Alec doesn't write about that, since he lives on the island. So you'll have to explore that yourself, go over on the ferry and look for skaters and talk to them. An adventure."

Response from Suhan Li: "Ended up going today and it was great. Turns out only the Ward Island ferry is running in the winter. We took a short walk to the lagoon between Algonquin and Snake island and had to walk maybe 50-100m through choppy ice to get to the smooth portions. From there on out maybe only a quarter of the ice had snow dusted on top. We saw ~50 people out on the ice as far as 1km out into the harbour. Ice thickness looked good on the exposed parts with only a couple of suspiciously clear but frozen cracks."

Feb.13, 2021

From Alec Farquhar:


the ice near Snake Island

There were a lot of people skating on the harbour today even in the cold, windy conditions. The wind has swept most of the snow off the ice. Some people skated out to the harbour through Sunfish Cut; others walked across Snake Island and put their skates on there, where the distance to good ice is much shorter.

This is a reminder that even more than on the lagoons, conditions on the harbour are very changeable. Currents move under the ice. There are still big areas of open water on the harbour. Wind and waves can break off big plates of ice. And the ferry boat and fire boat regularly cut through the ice. So this means that awareness of the conditions, skating with a group and carrying safety gear are very important.

A big thank you to all those who contributed to the cost of the warning signs posted on the Snake Island bridge – we’ve raised $200, which will cover the full cost.

 
Feb.11, 2021


From Alec Farquhar: the people who skate often on the Island are very safety conscious. We love to skate on natural ice but we’ve had a lot of experience with the changeable conditions out here. So we try to be sure that we’re aware of the potential risks. We also carry safety gear and skate in a group so that if something does happen, we can take care of each other.

Generally speaking, even when most of the ice is quite thick, as it is now, it is usually much more thin under the bridges and in a number of locations where there are strong currents flowing.

These past few weeks we’ve had a unique combination of excellent skating conditions and a desire by many people to get out of their homes into nature. So a lot of people have been coming to the Island to skate. Some of them don’t understand the conditions very well. A couple of week-ends ago, two people went through the ice under the Centre Bridge. They were quickly rescued, but it could have ended very badly.

So an anonymous person has created some signage (attached) to warn people about the bridges and Centre Bridge in particular.

The signs cost around $200 and I’m hoping that some of you will be able to contribute to cover the costs. If you e-transfer me the money, I’ll send it along to the sign maker.

Feb.10, 2021

From Alec Farquhar: There was a bit of new snow over most of the ice today. A couple of us skated today on Long Pond through the snow. Lots of animal tracks, including big coyote prints and some smaller ones that could be fox or perhaps racoon or muskrat.

Unless it snows tonight, probably some of the snow will be cleared off by wind and sun by tomorrow. There are big rinks cleared by the Island Church and Farm.

Even a bit of snow on the ice brings significant risks. Basically, you can’t see what is under that snow. You need to have a tool to check thickness. You’re taking a risk and need safety gear even more than usual, and of course don’t skate alone.

The potentially dangerous areas I’m aware of are under the bridges, most significantly Centre Bridge; the bend around the Farm; the bend around towards the Lighthouse on Blockhouse Bay and Blockhouse Bay towards the Hanlan’s dock. There are also patches of thin ice or open water around various docks, especially on Blockhouse Bay.

Feb.6, 2021

From Alec Farquhar: This morning I scouted out the ice along the lagoon up to Long Pond. I was surprised to find thin ice/open water under all three bridges – Snake, RCYC and Centre. Under Centre Bridge there is a lot of open water. I thought that maybe it would get cold enough last night to start some new ice there.

There is also open water around the bend by the Farm, where the ice is often thin.

This means that areas where the ice is usually thinner due to currents might have gotten thinner over the past couple of days, due to milder temperatures.

Having said that, I think that if you’re willing to go around the bridges, which isn’t very hard, you could make it up the lagoon from the Firehall to Long Pond. If anyone wants to do that in a group, I’ll be leaving from the Firehall at 1 pm today.

Snow is forecast tonight so we’ll see how things develop. If the wind keeps blowing, it might blow snow off a lot of the ice.

Feb.3,2021

Photo: Alec Farquhar

Photo: Mark McLean
 

From Alec Farquhar: That was a very special day (after several previous ones). Black ice all over the place but especially Blockhouse Bay. There are still some hazardous areas (near some docks, bubblers, under bridges). So you need to be aware of conditions as usual and bring safety gear. Don’t skate alone!

It will be milder next couple of days, then getting cold again. So we will have to go day by day and see how it turns out.

Jan.30,2021

From Alec Farquhar: This was a very special day of skating on the Island. I was out three times myself, starting with a sunrise skate where we measured the thickness of the ice. This identified that the ice under the Centre Island bridge was not safe – and indeed this afternoon two people fell through the ice there. They were rescued by some people who had been playing shinny nearby. This highlights the need to be aware of the conditions and carry safety gear. Every one of these incidents has the potential to end very badly.

As the day went on, we saw the impact of the late January sun. It definitely affected the ice, including under the RCYC and Snake Island bridges as examples.

Having said that, a lot of people from the Island and the City enjoyed a spectacular day of sun, skating and community. It was possible, with caution around bridges, to skate down from the Firehall to Long Pond. There was beautiful black ice around Snake and from the Church to the Centre Bridge. There was black ice at the end of Long Pond which had been too thin yesterday but where people skated today.

Caution is needed as temperatures rise. It’s only going down to -8 tonight versus minus double digits for the three previous nights. The sun gets stronger every day.

Some of us are going for a sunrise skate Sunday, leaving from the Ward’s dock when the 730 from the city arrives. Our thinking is that the ice will be most solid then versus later in the day.

Jan.12, 2021

From Alec Farquhar: We had surprisingly good ice by the Firehall early this morning. It is getting just cold enough at night, and staying cold enough during the day, for ice to build up slowly. We’re also fortunate that there has been so little snow, which means that you can see the ice and evaluate it better. There is some thicker, older ice near the Firehall, with newer, thinner black ice east and west of there. As it gets milder during the day, the newer ice will be less and less safe.

Some people are going for a sunset skate today either on Long Pond (if conditions permit) or by the new school where we’ve been skating for a few days now.

Tonight is supposed to get a little bit cold, so we decided to go to Long Pond for a sunrise skate on Wednesday. After that, it will get milder for a week, before temperatures go down again and likely we will get thicker ice for next week-end.

The conditions remain challenging. Lots of places which would usually have thicker ice have very thin, unsafe ice. So you should be with a group, have safety gear and check out the conditions carefully.

Jan.9, 2021

near the new school

From Alec Farquhar: We had a nice day of skating down by the new school. It’s been just cold enough day and night for the ice there to thicken sufficiently. There is a skin of ice on Long Pond but too thin overall.

Overall, there is way more open water and thin ice than there would normally be this time of year.

Some people tested the conditions behind Doughnut Island, in hopes of getting a close look at the 100 year old water pipe that has floated to the surface of Long Pond. Apparently several people went through the ice there although no harm done. We have our safety gear and know what we’re doing, but you can see the hazards of this mild winter.

The forecast is -7 for tonight. This is not bitter cold but it is cold enough to thicken the ice a bit. The forecast high on Sunday is 1 degree, so conditions should be similar or a bit better than today. We all need to take care, test ice thickness and carry safety gear. Don’t skate alone.

Jan.8, 2021

From Alec Farquhar: It has gotten just cold enough to create some good skating opportunities on the Island. You really need to understand the conditions. Many of the areas where we usually skate were open water yesterday (for example virtually all of Long Pond and many stretches of the lagoon from there to Ward’s). But there is skateable ice near the new school; on part of the RCYC lagoon east of the Church; and near the firehall at Ward’s.

A group of us skated by the new school late afternoon and sunset. It was enjoyable and we tested thickness quite carefully to figure out where we were safe. We’ll be going back there tomorrow, late morning. If you’re coming from the City, you’re going to be much better off if you come on your bike, because the new school is several kilometres from the Ward’s Island dock, which is the only place that the ferry boats are going these days.

Jan.1, 2021

From Alec Farquhar: Surprisingly, although overall conditions are perhaps the worst ever, it stayed just cold enough for skating in small pockets of the lagoons …


the lagoon beside the RCYC

People skated on the lagoon between Centreville and Olympic Island where we’ve been a few times in the past couple of weeks; also on a nice stretch of smooth ice on the lagoon beside the RCYC (that’s the photo). You really have to be careful and aware of the conditions – there’s thin ice and open water all over the place. Chris Jackson and I tried to get from the nature sanctuary to Doughnut Island but the ice was just too sketchy as we got closer to Doughnut. Our intention was to get a better look at the 100 year old water pipe that has mysteriously floated up from the bottom of Long Pond right across from Doughnut. You can see it from a distance from the Centre Island bridge. It’s huge and you just scratch your head wondering how it could have floated up and be sticking out of the water. However, we got to stop and feed the chickadees at the nature sanctuary (see the photo of Chris feeding one of them).

I’m really hoping that we get enough cold weather to give us more reliable conditions where we could go out as a group. Unfortunately doesn’t look too promising for the next while.

In the meantime, I’m including a link from Daniel Rotsztain of a beautiful lake out West which has a 30 km. skating path!

Dec.30, 2020

Ice sculpture near Centreville

From Alec Farquhar: Such a mild winter so far. But it got just cold enough last night to firm up the ice by Centreville. As far as I know, that was the only skateable ice on the Island (and we certainly looked in a lot of places). I’ve never seen so much open water this time of year all along the lagoons and on Long Pond.

Dec.28, 2020

From Alec Farquhar: Not much ice out there today but then this wonderful video arrived from Daniel Rotsztain, longtime friend who has spent many enjoyable times out on the ice. Also sometimes known as the Urban Geographer. The music is by Bobby Gadda. Thank you Daniel and Bobby!

All footage from Toronto Island 2014-2020: video by Daniel Rotsztain

Dec.27, 2020

From Alec Farquhar: I rode my bike down the lagoon to Long Pond today. Open water just about everywhere. Came home quite discouraged and then heard that a stretch of ice had been found between Centreville and Olympic Island. It turned out to be quite nice and a lot of people went down there. Over even a few hours, conditions deteriorated – someone went through the ice as a result. We had our safety gear and it turned out fine, but shows how sketchy conditions can become. Tomorrow will be quite mild so deterioration will continue. But hopefully this ice will harden up again when colder weather returns.

Tyler Ganton used his chainsaw to make an ice sculpture.


chainsaw ice sculpture

Dec.27: a stretch between Centreville and Olympic Island

And thank you Chris Jackson for a photo.

It’s been the mildest stretch of winter weather that I can ever remember and we can only hope to get at least a few days of true winter weather at some point.


Rink diaries from previous years

2019 - 2020

Feb.29, 2020, from A.F.

[high: minus 4C] Three of us skated today on Long Pond. There's a thin layer of snow over quite knobbly ice. As you go along towards the cut leading to the Marina, the ice quality deteriorates and it becomes quite crusty. I would guess that sun and milder temperatures will lead to further deterioration. Perhaps that was our last skate of this season. In spite of the ice quality, it was still so nice to be out on a brilliant sunny day with the wind blowing.

There is one day old black ice towards the Centre Island bridge and then along the Farm. I doubt that it will get cold enough tonight to make it safe. But it was just beautiful to see the snow being driven across it by the wind.

Feb.28,2020, from A.F.

[low: minus 11C] There is significant open water along the lagoons. But Long Pond is completely clear of snow and looks surprisingly good.


Long Pond, Feb.22, 2020. Photo: Brendan Carberry

closer
 
Feb.20, 2020, from A.F.

We had a pretty special time on Long Pond this afternoon. Skated all the way to the lagoon by the Filtration Plant. You need to pay attention to the conditions – there is thin new ice at various places along the way. There are a few crusty thin spots here and there. The main thing is to check the ice as it actually is versus assuming what it should be. Bring your ice picks and don’t go skating alone.

Friday morning might be the last good skating time this year.

Feb.19, 2020, afternoon, from A.F.

Four of us had a very nice skate late this afternoon. There is a lot more smooth ice than Monday and no crusty ice.

The wind was blowing hard out of the northwest and we got the chance to be blown down Long Pond.

HOWEVER, we got quite a lesson in caution today – on the south side of Long Pond from Doughnut Island down towards Forestry Island, there were some dangerously thin areas, especially some of the gas pockets. We had gotten very used to the general thickness of the ice and then suddenly we were on thin ice.

There is new, very thin black ice on the cut to the Marina and around the bend at Blockhouse Bay. It won’t be thick enough to skate on Thursday.

So we need to be really careful and not assume that the ice is safe because the nearby ice is safe. We have a strange combination of spring thaw and cold weather.

Bring your safety gear and don’t take conditions for granted.

Feb.19, 2020, from A.F., morning

Long Pond this morning. Overall, it appears that basically there is very little snow left on the ice; and that where the ice has survived it’s smoother and probably better to skate on. There doesn’t seem to be as much crusty stuff as there was on Monday. There are big areas of very thin ice and open water, especially Sunfish Cut, along Snake Island and around the Farm. I would expect that the areas of open water along Long Pond are larger than Monday. But the ice on Long Pond looks pretty nice from land. It will stay below freezing today with a lot of wind, so even a few flurries aren’t likely to cause problems. It could be quite good but given the hazards, I certainly wouldn’t want to skate alone. Bring your safety gear!


Feb.17, 2020, photo by A.Farquhar
Feb.17, 2020, from Alec Farquhar

Five of us skated up Long Pond to Blockhouse Bay. Much of Long Pond has been cleared of snow. There are stretches of pretty nice skating, but also lots of crusty patches and bumpy ice. The black ice areas at the cut to the Marina and around the bend as Blockhouse goes toward the filtration plant, are significantly melted and the ice that remains is very thin and unsafe.

It was still a glorious day and nice to be down there.

At various points along the lagoons, the black ice situation is similar – thinner, with more open water.

It appears from the forecast that we might conceivably have another melt and then low temperatures later in the week, so we will have to see how it all develops.

Jan.21, 2020

Jan.21, 2020: thin ice near Trout Lake

The photo (right) epitomizes the difficult skating conditions this winter – often we would have the beginning of beautiful black ice and it never got cold enough to make it safe to skate on. We’ve still enjoyed every chance we could get.


Dec.21, 2019
Dec.21, 2019, from A.Farquhar

We’ve had some nice unexpected skating on the Island past few days.  Even today was pretty good on Long Pond (not on the lagoons though).Maybe there will be skating Sunday morning but beyond that who knows.  Probably not much until the temperature goes down in January.

 

Rink diaries from previous years

2018 - 2019

Jan.19, 2018

From R.Sanger: They really know what they’re doing on the island and they just ignore whatever city rules there might be. Though the city doesn’t always ignore them — e.g.. they send the fireboat in to break up the ice, and when the harbour freezes they break up the ice just off the Harbourfront piers so people won’t try to walk or skate directly across.

Richard's example of smart natural ice skating at Toronto Island, from a skater's blog:

There’s about an inch of snow on the ice along the lagoon but much has already been swept off Long Pond by the wind. The ice all over Long Pond is 4 inches plus. However, it looks like perhaps the fireboat has come into Blockhouse Bay and broken up the ice quite a ways in from the Hanlan's dock. So not safe to venture over that way.

People were shovelling some paths on Long Pond. This allowed us to make sure we were avoiding swamp gas bubbles.

We had a really nice look at a bald eagle. There were lots of coyote tracks.

It was a mild day and there were still spots along the lagoon and on Long Pond, tending to be along shore, with water and/or sketchy ice. Now with snow covering the lagoon, it will be harder to detect these areas, so not advisable to skate down the lagoon. There are still currents working away under the ice and conditions may not be what they seem.

Don't go down alone, make sure you go as a group.

Jan.13, 2019

From R.Sanger: On Sunday, two of us had an amazing skate with an islander on the lagoons and backchannels between the islands, going all the way from the Firehall to Lighthouse near Hanlan’s Point on the canals and skating fast under the bridges (except for the Centre island Bridge which you have to climb and crawl around)… It was so much fun to skate with the islander who happily took on the role I usually play of Chief Reassurer and Handholder: “Oh yeah, it’s thick enough…” And it was.

 

2017- 2018

Jan.1, 2018: photos from Toronto Island and harbour, from Michael Monastyrskyj






 
Jan.1, 2018

Toronto Island. Photo: Rick Simon

From Alec Farquhar: Well it was really cold out there. But a few of us were out on the harbour today. Other than where the fire boat or Ongiara are breaking channels, the ice is 5 - 6 inches thick or more. The wind has blown away a lot of snow, so we're starting to see some black ice patches as you can see. The best ice was in the area sheltered by the RCYC mooring docks. This is where Rick Simon took this photo - but his camera was frozen so couldn't do his usual magic.

Dec.28, 2017

From Alec Farquhar: Some of the ice is still thin. Should be thicker Friday. Check carefully to make sure of thickness, make sure you have your safety gear, don't go far from shore.

There are beautiful hoarfrost flowers all over the ice, some large and quite exquisite.


Dec.28, 2017, Toronto Harbour

Dec.28, 2017, Toronto Island
 

Rink diaries from earlier years:

Feb.11, 2017, from Nicole Fritz

We went to the Island today but sadly the ice didn't look safe to skate on. I asked a couple of the locals & they didn't recommend it either. Figured I should pass on what I saw & heard.

Feb.10, 2017, from Rebecca Campbell

We had an amazing skate island-side today! Long Pond was black ice, but it was snowing by the time we got out. We met Rick and Alec, two of Wards’ foremost ice condition authorities, on their way back from a pre-snow skate, so we were well advised by the masters — otherwise it would have been (and certainly would have felt) pretty risky, with no visual guide. Wonderful!

Jan.15, 2017, from Richard Sanger

Long Pond on the island was amazing, smooth black and green ice going forever and lots of hardy Islanders to reassure you how safe it is — and using their “sonar” to determine the thickness — tapping the ice with the butt-end of a hockey and listening... 3 inches, 2 inches… They’re the real experts of wild ice.


 

2016

Jan.29, 2016, photos sent by Alec Farquhar


 
January 23, 2016. Email from Richard Sanger:

Jan.23: Long Pond, Toronto Island. Photo: Rick Simon

"Following Rick Simon (and his photo below), I went out and had a great skate on Long Pond at the Islands this afternoon: beautiful smooth black ice."

 

January 26, 2015

From skater Richard Sanger: Island skating: I went to the island on Sunday on the 12:40 ferry and came back on the 2;30pm--It's not as good as it was last year (or perhaps as Grenadier is now) but there's some wonderful clear black ice in the harbour, the closer to Toronto the blacker and smoother, and the cracks you see all seem to go down about a foot. The Islanders marked off a safe boundary by putting their old Christmas trees on the ice but it must be safe well beyond them. Around Algonquin there's quite a lot of old choppy ice: I put on my skates at the closest docks facing Algonquin and had to crawl under the gangway to the Rapids Queen to get out onto the harbour. After skating the harbour, I crawled back, and skated up the lagoon, past the Islanders' Sunday hockey game and, keeping left, up those waterways, past the church and RCYC, to Centre Island. I'd never done that before and it felt like I imagine those river skates in Holland must feel. The ice was alternately smooth and nice, and then choppy--and there had been open water under some of the bridges--and there was still some near the RCYC docks. On the ferry over, I met a woman who was taking a group of 5 not overly proficient skaters up all the little inlets there. "Someone falls in going under a bridge every year", she said and laughed "only up to their ankles or so".

January 26, 2015

Toronto Star article by Marco Chown Oved:

....Toronto has a long history of skating on the harbour that includes ice-boat races and New Year’s Eve balls on the ice. Those traditions live on in a much reduced form, primarily preserved by a small community of people who live on the Toronto Island.

Each winter they watch the weather and check the ice. They start tentatively in the lagoons between the Islands, and if it gets cold enough, they’ll venture onto the harbour, which can freeze into more than three square kilometres of skating bliss.

Alix McLaughlin is a third-generation islander who cherishes her childhood memories of skating on the harbour and heating her feet up in the oven afterward. In the 1970s, her father, who was a Canadian Olympic sailor, would take the family out for ice-boat regattas on Toronto and Hamilton harbours every winter.

January 11, 2014

Globe and Mail article, by Ian Merringer:

Island resident Geoff Currie, 58, oversees the volunteer-run rinks. In a few weeks, the huge pad near the Queen City Yacht Club docks will host the Mallard Cup, the community tournament that sees up to 40 shinny players swinging sticks (and shovels).

Mr. Currie used to maintain rinks offshore in the harbour. One morning a few years ago, he woke up on the day of the tournament to find the wind had moved the harbour ice, rinks included, out into Lake Ontario overnight.

“People said they saw my prized four-foot scraping shovels floating off toward Rochester,” says Mr. Currie.

That’s part of life on the water. Another part is what Rick Simon calls “skating the wild ice.”

Mr. Simon, a 45-year veteran of the islands, says that, while conditions can be especially variable around bridges, skating the interior canals and lagoons opens the islands up for exploration.

“You can go for long distances instead of in circles, duck into inlets to skate among trees, glide over places where you see beaver swimming in the summer,” says Mr. Simon.

Feb.10 2013

Toronto Star article, by Marco Chown Oved


Feb.3, 2013, photo by Alec Farquhar

“As far as we’re aware, there is nothing we’ve ever enforced, nor is it enforceable,” said police spokesperson Const. Wendy Drummond.

The police Marine Unit recently purchased an ice boat that skims across the surface like a hovercraft. In their new boat, police patrol the ice around the islands, discouraging people from skating, Davey said.

This has led to some stand-offs between residents, who won’t give up the long-held tradition, and police, who see it as unsafe.

“Once, they even tried to make us wear life jackets,” Davey said.

Each freeze-up would bring another confrontation until several years ago, when local MP Olivia Chow tromped out onto the ice to mediate.

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Rink Diary 2014-2015

2020 - 2021

Feb.17, 2021

From Alec Farquhar: This may be the last ice report of the season. Most of the ice on the Island is already snow covered. And more snow is coming. And then the temperatures will start to rise.

So essentially the only skating would be cleared rinks.

There are also new hazards, because snow insulates the ice and you can get melt underneath. This means that you could be walking, skiing or skating through snow and not realize that there is a thin patch under the snow.

But it’s been a wonderful skating season and the skiing is great!

Feb.15, 2021

From Suhan Li: "I would like to know whether the ice conditions are favorable for skating today - I didn't see an update on the blog today or yesterday. Also would love to know which ferry has the best access to the skating areas as the information available online is limited."

Response from cityrinks: "We post occasionally, not every day, and just whatever people send us. In terms of the best ferry access -- Alec doesn't write about that, since he lives on the island. So you'll have to explore that yourself, go over on the ferry and look for skaters and talk to them. An adventure."

Response from Suhan Li: "Ended up going today and it was great. Turns out only the Ward Island ferry is running in the winter. We took a short walk to the lagoon between Algonquin and Snake island and had to walk maybe 50-100m through choppy ice to get to the smooth portions. From there on out maybe only a quarter of the ice had snow dusted on top. We saw ~50 people out on the ice as far as 1km out into the harbour. Ice thickness looked good on the exposed parts with only a couple of suspiciously clear but frozen cracks."

Feb.13, 2021

From Alec Farquhar:


the ice near Snake Island

There were a lot of people skating on the harbour today even in the cold, windy conditions. The wind has swept most of the snow off the ice. Some people skated out to the harbour through Sunfish Cut; others walked across Snake Island and put their skates on there, where the distance to good ice is much shorter.

This is a reminder that even more than on the lagoons, conditions on the harbour are very changeable. Currents move under the ice. There are still big areas of open water on the harbour. Wind and waves can break off big plates of ice. And the ferry boat and fire boat regularly cut through the ice. So this means that awareness of the conditions, skating with a group and carrying safety gear are very important.

A big thank you to all those who contributed to the cost of the warning signs posted on the Snake Island bridge – we’ve raised $200, which will cover the full cost.

 
Feb.11, 2021


From Alec Farquhar: the people who skate often on the Island are very safety conscious. We love to skate on natural ice but we’ve had a lot of experience with the changeable conditions out here. So we try to be sure that we’re aware of the potential risks. We also carry safety gear and skate in a group so that if something does happen, we can take care of each other.

Generally speaking, even when most of the ice is quite thick, as it is now, it is usually much more thin under the bridges and in a number of locations where there are strong currents flowing.

These past few weeks we’ve had a unique combination of excellent skating conditions and a desire by many people to get out of their homes into nature. So a lot of people have been coming to the Island to skate. Some of them don’t understand the conditions very well. A couple of week-ends ago, two people went through the ice under the Centre Bridge. They were quickly rescued, but it could have ended very badly.

So an anonymous person has created some signage (attached) to warn people about the bridges and Centre Bridge in particular.

The signs cost around $200 and I’m hoping that some of you will be able to contribute to cover the costs. If you e-transfer me the money, I’ll send it along to the sign maker.

Feb.10, 2021

From Alec Farquhar: There was a bit of new snow over most of the ice today. A couple of us skated today on Long Pond through the snow. Lots of animal tracks, including big coyote prints and some smaller ones that could be fox or perhaps racoon or muskrat.

Unless it snows tonight, probably some of the snow will be cleared off by wind and sun by tomorrow. There are big rinks cleared by the Island Church and Farm.

Even a bit of snow on the ice brings significant risks. Basically, you can’t see what is under that snow. You need to have a tool to check thickness. You’re taking a risk and need safety gear even more than usual, and of course don’t skate alone.

The potentially dangerous areas I’m aware of are under the bridges, most significantly Centre Bridge; the bend around the Farm; the bend around towards the Lighthouse on Blockhouse Bay and Blockhouse Bay towards the Hanlan’s dock. There are also patches of thin ice or open water around various docks, especially on Blockhouse Bay.

Feb.6, 2021

From Alec Farquhar: This morning I scouted out the ice along the lagoon up to Long Pond. I was surprised to find thin ice/open water under all three bridges – Snake, RCYC and Centre. Under Centre Bridge there is a lot of open water. I thought that maybe it would get cold enough last night to start some new ice there.

There is also open water around the bend by the Farm, where the ice is often thin.

This means that areas where the ice is usually thinner due to currents might have gotten thinner over the past couple of days, due to milder temperatures.

Having said that, I think that if you’re willing to go around the bridges, which isn’t very hard, you could make it up the lagoon from the Firehall to Long Pond. If anyone wants to do that in a group, I’ll be leaving from the Firehall at 1 pm today.

Snow is forecast tonight so we’ll see how things develop. If the wind keeps blowing, it might blow snow off a lot of the ice.

Feb.3,2021

Photo: Alec Farquhar

Photo: Mark McLean
 

From Alec Farquhar: That was a very special day (after several previous ones). Black ice all over the place but especially Blockhouse Bay. There are still some hazardous areas (near some docks, bubblers, under bridges). So you need to be aware of conditions as usual and bring safety gear. Don’t skate alone!

It will be milder next couple of days, then getting cold again. So we will have to go day by day and see how it turns out.

Jan.30,2021

From Alec Farquhar: This was a very special day of skating on the Island. I was out three times myself, starting with a sunrise skate where we measured the thickness of the ice. This identified that the ice under the Centre Island bridge was not safe – and indeed this afternoon two people fell through the ice there. They were rescued by some people who had been playing shinny nearby. This highlights the need to be aware of the conditions and carry safety gear. Every one of these incidents has the potential to end very badly.

As the day went on, we saw the impact of the late January sun. It definitely affected the ice, including under the RCYC and Snake Island bridges as examples.

Having said that, a lot of people from the Island and the City enjoyed a spectacular day of sun, skating and community. It was possible, with caution around bridges, to skate down from the Firehall to Long Pond. There was beautiful black ice around Snake and from the Church to the Centre Bridge. There was black ice at the end of Long Pond which had been too thin yesterday but where people skated today.

Caution is needed as temperatures rise. It’s only going down to -8 tonight versus minus double digits for the three previous nights. The sun gets stronger every day.

Some of us are going for a sunrise skate Sunday, leaving from the Ward’s dock when the 730 from the city arrives. Our thinking is that the ice will be most solid then versus later in the day.

Jan.12, 2021

From Alec Farquhar: We had surprisingly good ice by the Firehall early this morning. It is getting just cold enough at night, and staying cold enough during the day, for ice to build up slowly. We’re also fortunate that there has been so little snow, which means that you can see the ice and evaluate it better. There is some thicker, older ice near the Firehall, with newer, thinner black ice east and west of there. As it gets milder during the day, the newer ice will be less and less safe.

Some people are going for a sunset skate today either on Long Pond (if conditions permit) or by the new school where we’ve been skating for a few days now.

Tonight is supposed to get a little bit cold, so we decided to go to Long Pond for a sunrise skate on Wednesday. After that, it will get milder for a week, before temperatures go down again and likely we will get thicker ice for next week-end.

The conditions remain challenging. Lots of places which would usually have thicker ice have very thin, unsafe ice. So you should be with a group, have safety gear and check out the conditions carefully.

Jan.9, 2021

near the new school

From Alec Farquhar: We had a nice day of skating down by the new school. It’s been just cold enough day and night for the ice there to thicken sufficiently. There is a skin of ice on Long Pond but too thin overall.

Overall, there is way more open water and thin ice than there would normally be this time of year.

Some people tested the conditions behind Doughnut Island, in hopes of getting a close look at the 100 year old water pipe that has floated to the surface of Long Pond. Apparently several people went through the ice there although no harm done. We have our safety gear and know what we’re doing, but you can see the hazards of this mild winter.

The forecast is -7 for tonight. This is not bitter cold but it is cold enough to thicken the ice a bit. The forecast high on Sunday is 1 degree, so conditions should be similar or a bit better than today. We all need to take care, test ice thickness and carry safety gear. Don’t skate alone.

Jan.8, 2021

From Alec Farquhar: It has gotten just cold enough to create some good skating opportunities on the Island. You really need to understand the conditions. Many of the areas where we usually skate were open water yesterday (for example virtually all of Long Pond and many stretches of the lagoon from there to Ward’s). But there is skateable ice near the new school; on part of the RCYC lagoon east of the Church; and near the firehall at Ward’s.

A group of us skated by the new school late afternoon and sunset. It was enjoyable and we tested thickness quite carefully to figure out where we were safe. We’ll be going back there tomorrow, late morning. If you’re coming from the City, you’re going to be much better off if you come on your bike, because the new school is several kilometres from the Ward’s Island dock, which is the only place that the ferry boats are going these days.

Jan.1, 2021

From Alec Farquhar: Surprisingly, although overall conditions are perhaps the worst ever, it stayed just cold enough for skating in small pockets of the lagoons …


the lagoon beside the RCYC

People skated on the lagoon between Centreville and Olympic Island where we’ve been a few times in the past couple of weeks; also on a nice stretch of smooth ice on the lagoon beside the RCYC (that’s the photo). You really have to be careful and aware of the conditions – there’s thin ice and open water all over the place. Chris Jackson and I tried to get from the nature sanctuary to Doughnut Island but the ice was just too sketchy as we got closer to Doughnut. Our intention was to get a better look at the 100 year old water pipe that has mysteriously floated up from the bottom of Long Pond right across from Doughnut. You can see it from a distance from the Centre Island bridge. It’s huge and you just scratch your head wondering how it could have floated up and be sticking out of the water. However, we got to stop and feed the chickadees at the nature sanctuary (see the photo of Chris feeding one of them).

I’m really hoping that we get enough cold weather to give us more reliable conditions where we could go out as a group. Unfortunately doesn’t look too promising for the next while.

In the meantime, I’m including a link from Daniel Rotsztain of a beautiful lake out West which has a 30 km. skating path!

Dec.30, 2020

Ice sculpture near Centreville

From Alec Farquhar: Such a mild winter so far. But it got just cold enough last night to firm up the ice by Centreville. As far as I know, that was the only skateable ice on the Island (and we certainly looked in a lot of places). I’ve never seen so much open water this time of year all along the lagoons and on Long Pond.

Dec.28, 2020

From Alec Farquhar: Not much ice out there today but then this wonderful video arrived from Daniel Rotsztain, longtime friend who has spent many enjoyable times out on the ice. Also sometimes known as the Urban Geographer. The music is by Bobby Gadda. Thank you Daniel and Bobby!

All footage from Toronto Island 2014-2020: video by Daniel Rotsztain

Dec.27, 2020

From Alec Farquhar: I rode my bike down the lagoon to Long Pond today. Open water just about everywhere. Came home quite discouraged and then heard that a stretch of ice had been found between Centreville and Olympic Island. It turned out to be quite nice and a lot of people went down there. Over even a few hours, conditions deteriorated – someone went through the ice as a result. We had our safety gear and it turned out fine, but shows how sketchy conditions can become. Tomorrow will be quite mild so deterioration will continue. But hopefully this ice will harden up again when colder weather returns.

Tyler Ganton used his chainsaw to make an ice sculpture.


chainsaw ice sculpture

Dec.27: a stretch between Centreville and Olympic Island

And thank you Chris Jackson for a photo.

It’s been the mildest stretch of winter weather that I can ever remember and we can only hope to get at least a few days of true winter weather at some point.


Rink diaries from previous years

2019 - 2020

Feb.29, 2020, from A.F.

[high: minus 4C] Three of us skated today on Long Pond. There's a thin layer of snow over quite knobbly ice. As you go along towards the cut leading to the Marina, the ice quality deteriorates and it becomes quite crusty. I would guess that sun and milder temperatures will lead to further deterioration. Perhaps that was our last skate of this season. In spite of the ice quality, it was still so nice to be out on a brilliant sunny day with the wind blowing.

There is one day old black ice towards the Centre Island bridge and then along the Farm. I doubt that it will get cold enough tonight to make it safe. But it was just beautiful to see the snow being driven across it by the wind.

Feb.28,2020, from A.F.

[low: minus 11C] There is significant open water along the lagoons. But Long Pond is completely clear of snow and looks surprisingly good.


Long Pond, Feb.22, 2020. Photo: Brendan Carberry

closer
 
Feb.20, 2020, from A.F.

We had a pretty special time on Long Pond this afternoon. Skated all the way to the lagoon by the Filtration Plant. You need to pay attention to the conditions – there is thin new ice at various places along the way. There are a few crusty thin spots here and there. The main thing is to check the ice as it actually is versus assuming what it should be. Bring your ice picks and don’t go skating alone.

Friday morning might be the last good skating time this year.

Feb.19, 2020, afternoon, from A.F.

Four of us had a very nice skate late this afternoon. There is a lot more smooth ice than Monday and no crusty ice.

The wind was blowing hard out of the northwest and we got the chance to be blown down Long Pond.

HOWEVER, we got quite a lesson in caution today – on the south side of Long Pond from Doughnut Island down towards Forestry Island, there were some dangerously thin areas, especially some of the gas pockets. We had gotten very used to the general thickness of the ice and then suddenly we were on thin ice.

There is new, very thin black ice on the cut to the Marina and around the bend at Blockhouse Bay. It won’t be thick enough to skate on Thursday.

So we need to be really careful and not assume that the ice is safe because the nearby ice is safe. We have a strange combination of spring thaw and cold weather.

Bring your safety gear and don’t take conditions for granted.

Feb.19, 2020, from A.F., morning

Long Pond this morning. Overall, it appears that basically there is very little snow left on the ice; and that where the ice has survived it’s smoother and probably better to skate on. There doesn’t seem to be as much crusty stuff as there was on Monday. There are big areas of very thin ice and open water, especially Sunfish Cut, along Snake Island and around the Farm. I would expect that the areas of open water along Long Pond are larger than Monday. But the ice on Long Pond looks pretty nice from land. It will stay below freezing today with a lot of wind, so even a few flurries aren’t likely to cause problems. It could be quite good but given the hazards, I certainly wouldn’t want to skate alone. Bring your safety gear!


Feb.17, 2020, photo by A.Farquhar
Feb.17, 2020, from Alec Farquhar

Five of us skated up Long Pond to Blockhouse Bay. Much of Long Pond has been cleared of snow. There are stretches of pretty nice skating, but also lots of crusty patches and bumpy ice. The black ice areas at the cut to the Marina and around the bend as Blockhouse goes toward the filtration plant, are significantly melted and the ice that remains is very thin and unsafe.

It was still a glorious day and nice to be down there.

At various points along the lagoons, the black ice situation is similar – thinner, with more open water.

It appears from the forecast that we might conceivably have another melt and then low temperatures later in the week, so we will have to see how it all develops.

Jan.21, 2020

Jan.21, 2020: thin ice near Trout Lake

The photo (right) epitomizes the difficult skating conditions this winter – often we would have the beginning of beautiful black ice and it never got cold enough to make it safe to skate on. We’ve still enjoyed every chance we could get.


Dec.21, 2019
Dec.21, 2019, from A.Farquhar

We’ve had some nice unexpected skating on the Island past few days.  Even today was pretty good on Long Pond (not on the lagoons though).Maybe there will be skating Sunday morning but beyond that who knows.  Probably not much until the temperature goes down in January.

 

Rink diaries from previous years

2018 - 2019

Jan.19, 2018

From R.Sanger: They really know what they’re doing on the island and they just ignore whatever city rules there might be. Though the city doesn’t always ignore them — e.g.. they send the fireboat in to break up the ice, and when the harbour freezes they break up the ice just off the Harbourfront piers so people won’t try to walk or skate directly across.

Richard's example of smart natural ice skating at Toronto Island, from a skater's blog:

There’s about an inch of snow on the ice along the lagoon but much has already been swept off Long Pond by the wind. The ice all over Long Pond is 4 inches plus. However, it looks like perhaps the fireboat has come into Blockhouse Bay and broken up the ice quite a ways in from the Hanlan's dock. So not safe to venture over that way.

People were shovelling some paths on Long Pond. This allowed us to make sure we were avoiding swamp gas bubbles.

We had a really nice look at a bald eagle. There were lots of coyote tracks.

It was a mild day and there were still spots along the lagoon and on Long Pond, tending to be along shore, with water and/or sketchy ice. Now with snow covering the lagoon, it will be harder to detect these areas, so not advisable to skate down the lagoon. There are still currents working away under the ice and conditions may not be what they seem.

Don't go down alone, make sure you go as a group.

Jan.13, 2019

From R.Sanger: On Sunday, two of us had an amazing skate with an islander on the lagoons and backchannels between the islands, going all the way from the Firehall to Lighthouse near Hanlan’s Point on the canals and skating fast under the bridges (except for the Centre island Bridge which you have to climb and crawl around)… It was so much fun to skate with the islander who happily took on the role I usually play of Chief Reassurer and Handholder: “Oh yeah, it’s thick enough…” And it was.

 

2017- 2018

Jan.1, 2018: photos from Toronto Island and harbour, from Michael Monastyrskyj






 
Jan.1, 2018

Toronto Island. Photo: Rick Simon

From Alec Farquhar: Well it was really cold out there. But a few of us were out on the harbour today. Other than where the fire boat or Ongiara are breaking channels, the ice is 5 - 6 inches thick or more. The wind has blown away a lot of snow, so we're starting to see some black ice patches as you can see. The best ice was in the area sheltered by the RCYC mooring docks. This is where Rick Simon took this photo - but his camera was frozen so couldn't do his usual magic.

Dec.28, 2017

From Alec Farquhar: Some of the ice is still thin. Should be thicker Friday. Check carefully to make sure of thickness, make sure you have your safety gear, don't go far from shore.

There are beautiful hoarfrost flowers all over the ice, some large and quite exquisite.


Dec.28, 2017, Toronto Harbour

Dec.28, 2017, Toronto Island
 

Rink diaries from earlier years:

Feb.11, 2017, from Nicole Fritz

We went to the Island today but sadly the ice didn't look safe to skate on. I asked a couple of the locals & they didn't recommend it either. Figured I should pass on what I saw & heard.

Feb.10, 2017, from Rebecca Campbell

We had an amazing skate island-side today! Long Pond was black ice, but it was snowing by the time we got out. We met Rick and Alec, two of Wards’ foremost ice condition authorities, on their way back from a pre-snow skate, so we were well advised by the masters — otherwise it would have been (and certainly would have felt) pretty risky, with no visual guide. Wonderful!

Jan.15, 2017, from Richard Sanger

Long Pond on the island was amazing, smooth black and green ice going forever and lots of hardy Islanders to reassure you how safe it is — and using their “sonar” to determine the thickness — tapping the ice with the butt-end of a hockey and listening... 3 inches, 2 inches… They’re the real experts of wild ice.


 

2016

Jan.29, 2016, photos sent by Alec Farquhar


 
January 23, 2016. Email from Richard Sanger:

Jan.23: Long Pond, Toronto Island. Photo: Rick Simon

"Following Rick Simon (and his photo below), I went out and had a great skate on Long Pond at the Islands this afternoon: beautiful smooth black ice."

 

January 26, 2015

From skater Richard Sanger: Island skating: I went to the island on Sunday on the 12:40 ferry and came back on the 2;30pm--It's not as good as it was last year (or perhaps as Grenadier is now) but there's some wonderful clear black ice in the harbour, the closer to Toronto the blacker and smoother, and the cracks you see all seem to go down about a foot. The Islanders marked off a safe boundary by putting their old Christmas trees on the ice but it must be safe well beyond them. Around Algonquin there's quite a lot of old choppy ice: I put on my skates at the closest docks facing Algonquin and had to crawl under the gangway to the Rapids Queen to get out onto the harbour. After skating the harbour, I crawled back, and skated up the lagoon, past the Islanders' Sunday hockey game and, keeping left, up those waterways, past the church and RCYC, to Centre Island. I'd never done that before and it felt like I imagine those river skates in Holland must feel. The ice was alternately smooth and nice, and then choppy--and there had been open water under some of the bridges--and there was still some near the RCYC docks. On the ferry over, I met a woman who was taking a group of 5 not overly proficient skaters up all the little inlets there. "Someone falls in going under a bridge every year", she said and laughed "only up to their ankles or so".

January 26, 2015

Toronto Star article by Marco Chown Oved:

....Toronto has a long history of skating on the harbour that includes ice-boat races and New Year’s Eve balls on the ice. Those traditions live on in a much reduced form, primarily preserved by a small community of people who live on the Toronto Island.

Each winter they watch the weather and check the ice. They start tentatively in the lagoons between the Islands, and if it gets cold enough, they’ll venture onto the harbour, which can freeze into more than three square kilometres of skating bliss.

Alix McLaughlin is a third-generation islander who cherishes her childhood memories of skating on the harbour and heating her feet up in the oven afterward. In the 1970s, her father, who was a Canadian Olympic sailor, would take the family out for ice-boat regattas on Toronto and Hamilton harbours every winter.

January 11, 2014

Globe and Mail article, by Ian Merringer:

Island resident Geoff Currie, 58, oversees the volunteer-run rinks. In a few weeks, the huge pad near the Queen City Yacht Club docks will host the Mallard Cup, the community tournament that sees up to 40 shinny players swinging sticks (and shovels).

Mr. Currie used to maintain rinks offshore in the harbour. One morning a few years ago, he woke up on the day of the tournament to find the wind had moved the harbour ice, rinks included, out into Lake Ontario overnight.

“People said they saw my prized four-foot scraping shovels floating off toward Rochester,” says Mr. Currie.

That’s part of life on the water. Another part is what Rick Simon calls “skating the wild ice.”

Mr. Simon, a 45-year veteran of the islands, says that, while conditions can be especially variable around bridges, skating the interior canals and lagoons opens the islands up for exploration.

“You can go for long distances instead of in circles, duck into inlets to skate among trees, glide over places where you see beaver swimming in the summer,” says Mr. Simon.

Feb.10 2013

Toronto Star article, by Marco Chown Oved


Feb.3, 2013, photo by Alec Farquhar

“As far as we’re aware, there is nothing we’ve ever enforced, nor is it enforceable,” said police spokesperson Const. Wendy Drummond.

The police Marine Unit recently purchased an ice boat that skims across the surface like a hovercraft. In their new boat, police patrol the ice around the islands, discouraging people from skating, Davey said.

This has led to some stand-offs between residents, who won’t give up the long-held tradition, and police, who see it as unsafe.

“Once, they even tried to make us wear life jackets,” Davey said.

Each freeze-up would bring another confrontation until several years ago, when local MP Olivia Chow tromped out onto the ice to mediate.

 

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