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Almost like an ocean — that’s how enormous Lake Ontario seems. One of five North American Great Lakes, the 19,000-square-kilometre freshwater body is flanked on the southeast by New York State and Toronto, Ontario on the west. It has 1,145 kilometres of beautiful shoreline, including offshore islands. And as you might imagine, the shores are lined with tree-filled parks, sandy beaches, and restaurants with a view — all near urban Toronto. There’s a reason “Ontario” means “beautiful lake” in Iroquois. Find out why with this guide to fun on the Toronto-area shoreline.
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Waterfront art installations along Toronto's Woodbine Beach. Part of the Winter Stations design competition, this one is called 'Buoybuoybuoy' and is made with reflective, interchanging pieces. See more from the Winter Stations in my Instastories 😊 #winterstations #toronto
Canada’s largest city also boasts one of the world’s longest urban waterfronts with nearly 48 kilometres of beaches, marinas, and green spaces. If that wasn’t enough, the shores of this great lake are also home to art galleries, concert venues, and even a BMX bike park. Visit the weekend Waterfront Artisan Market June to October. You’ll find all kinds of produce, fresh-baked breads, artisan cheese, artwork, and handmade wares from 50 vendors. Enjoy a roving lunch as you stroll. Swim and work on your tan at popular Woodbine Beach, sip cocktails at a lakeside patio, take a sunset gourmet dinner boat cruise, sail on a 19th century tall ship, windsurf or kite surf, canoe or kayak, or venture out in a paddle boat for two.
Music, concerts, and butterflies
One must-see on the shores of Lake Ontario is the unusual Music Garden, a venue that’s home to free public concerts in summertime on Thursdays and Sundays. A collaboration between landscape designer Julie Moir Messervy and world-renowned cellist Yo-Yo Ma, the lakeside garden portrays, in plants and blooms, the six movements of Bach’s Suite No. 1 in G Major for Unaccompanied Cello. You can take a free guided tour from Harbourfront Centre or buy the self-guided audio tour and explore on your own. Other favourites are the Molson Canadian Amphitheatre for large stadium-style, open air concerts as well as the intimate Echo Beach. Lunch at the 1922 Art Deco Sunnyside Café near the Martin Goodman Trail is a must and so is watching for the ephemeral, fluttering insects in the flower-filled meadows of Humber Bay Butterfly Habitat.
Scarborough Bluffs Park
See the dramatic white cliffs some 12,000 years old towering 14 kilometres high at Scarborough Bluffs Park, a sedimentary escarpment of geological interest and also the site of the longest sandy beach in the area. Bring a picnic lunch and hike the network of walking trails and boardwalks. You can charter a fishing excursion, too, angling for carp, pike, bass, salmon, and trout. Four hundred-acre Scarborough Bluffs includes several parks, such as Cathedral Bluffs Park with its towering spires and Bluffer’s Park and Beach. Bluffer’s is the only lake access point and its beach has the highest eco rating for healthy wildlife and clean water. Stop in at the large marina afterwards for dinner with a view from the patio of Bluffer’s Park Restaurant.
Be sure to snap a selfie in front of gravity defying, wooden slat Time Tunnel at waterfront Budapest Park. The Tunnel is a symbolic art installation created in 2016 by Hungarian designers in memory of the 1956 anti-Soviet Hungarian Revolution. It’s the second such installation in the park after Victor Tolgesy’s 1966 work. At the foot of Parkside Drive, tree-filled Budapest Park — just next to a public pool and swimming beach — is ideal for picnicking, jogging, or hiking along the Martin Goodman Trail. Find a nice spot by the fountain and take in the city skyline.
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Ireland Park tells the story of the 38,000 Irish immigrants who traveled to Canada fleeing the Great Potato Famine in the 1850s in hopes of starting a new life. Éireann Quay, next to some large abandoned grain silos, houses five bronze sculptures and symbolic artworks on its grassy lawns shaded by large oaks as a reminder. A compelling spot a decade in the making, the park’s limestone wall of black stones imported from Ireland and etched with names of the deceased commemorates the hundreds who perished in the ship crossings in a stirring tribute. Strikingly beautiful, this work is paired with downtown panoramas, making for the perfect place to reflect and enjoy the quiet.
Leslie Street Spit
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Mother Nature is always welcome, even in a busy city like Toronto! I had a unique encounter with this long eared owl in Thompson Park on the Leslie Street Spit. The red dogwood in the foreground created a unique colour effect. Owls are mostly active at night, so they have a highly developed hearing system. Their ears are located on the sides of the head, behind the eyes, and are covered by the facial disc feathers. The "ear tufts" that stand upright or hang alongside the head, look like a set of ears, however they have no impact on the owls hearing! I'm heading to northern Ontario for the next couple of days to do some more photography, so stay tuned!
At the foot of Leslie Street near downtown, Leslie Street Spit juts 5 kilometres into Lake Ontario, a 1,236-acre (manmade) peninsula and portion of Tommy Thompson Park. It’s also a former dumping ground that’s happily, and pretty much by chance, turned into a biodiverse urban wilderness. It’s carpeted in wildflower-filled meadows, marshes, beaches, sand dunes, and cottonwood and poplar forest, crisscrossed with blissfully car-free roads and trails, and a solar-powered lighthouse. The spit actually represents Toronto’s biggest chunk of waterfront natural habitat. You’ll want to rent a bike and cycle here, looking out for stealthy coyotes, shy muskrats, butterflies, and 300 species of birds, including migrating flocks and owls. Hike, rollerblade, or fish here, too.
After you’ve combed the lake’s shores, tack on an Ontario getaway to see more of the countryside.