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Sports & Play

Toronto Beaches: Ward's Island Beach

Posted by Krystyn Tully / July 13, 2012

Wards Island BeachWard's Island is a world unto itself. It is close to downtown, yet removed. It is dense, yet open. It is cottage country in the heart of Canada's biggest city.

Technically, "Ward's Island" does not exist. You can take the ferry to the Ward's Island ferry dock. You can walk there from Centreville Amusement Park. You can see it from Cherry Beach or Leslie Spit. But there is no such place as Ward's Island.

Ward's "Island" is actually the easternmost part of Centre Island, the curve of land that hugs Toronto Harbour. It is part of the Toronto Islands, but it has a character and an atmosphere all its own.

Wards Island BeachBack in the late 1880s, David Ward and his seven children built a hotel on the newly-formed Centre Island. A small tent and resort community developed around them, followed by a residential community. Most of the people who live on the Toronto Islands today live on the eastern edge, in the Ward's or Algonquin Island neighbourhoods.

The beach itself is a very short walk down Withrow Street from the ferry dock. Do yourself a favour, though, and take the long route. To get to Ward's beach, you should stroll through this tranquil, car-free residential community. It is a privileged community, because it is special, but household incomes are below the city average. The "roads" are designed for pedestrians, creating a quaint, close-knit vibe. The result is unpretentious yet impressive.

When you do arrive at the beach, it will not be deserted but it should be quiet. Beach users are a mix of island residents and in-the-know island visitors who come to escape the crowds of Centre Island. Boaters tend to anchor just offshore on their way in and out of the harbour. Despite the ferry ride and the stroll across the island, you end up only a few hundred metres from the Leslie Street Spit, Cherry Beach, and the entrance to Toronto's Outer Harbour across the gap.

Wards Island BeachWater quality at Ward's Beach is good. It is a bit rocky, especially at the west end. Die-hard sand lovers will prefer Gibraltar and Hanlan's beaches to the west, where the strong wave action keeps things soft and algae-free. The charm of the Ward's community and the relatively clean water still make this beach very attractive in its own right.

Ward's Beach is part of Centre Island, yet it is its own place. Instead of amusement parks, you'll find a disc golf course. Instead of pizza and ice cream from summertime vendors, you'll find bresoala and wine at the Rectory Café. When you visit Ward's - and you definitely want to visit Ward's - you're playing in a not-so-secret backyard treasure.

If you are on bike or on foot, follow the boardwalk from Ward's Beach 3-kilometres to Centre Island or 4.5-kilometres to Hanlan's Point before heading back to the mainland.

Wards Island BeachTHE SKINNY

Number of days closed due to water quality problems since June 1 2011: 8

Sand quality: Sandy beach, a bit rocky in the water

Trails: Walking paths connect you to all corners of the Toronto Islands

On-site facilities: Washrooms, restaurant, one volleyball court

To get to the Island: Ward's Island Ferry from foot of Bay Street, Queen City Yacht Club Ferry or Water Taxi from foot of York Street

People-watching potential (out of 3): 1 (this is laid back place with lots of families)

Aggressiveness of seagulls and geese (out of 3): 1 (historically the Island birds are very aggressive and messy, but due to the bird relocation program, there aren't many to bother you right now).


Krystyn Tully is the co-founder of Lake Ontario Waterkeeper, a Toronto-based charity working for a Lake Ontario in which you can swim, drink, and fish. Check out her Swim Guide smartphone app for more info about beaches in Toronto and beyond.



Michelle / July 13, 2012 at 12:31 pm
You say: "When you do arrive at the beach, it will not be deserted but it should be quiet." Well, actually, not any more. Because everytime someone writes about Ward's beach it gets more and more crowded! On weekends it is packed!
Dildo Jones / July 13, 2012 at 12:47 pm
Conor replying to a comment from Michelle / July 13, 2012 at 12:48 pm
Ha ha! Exactly what I was thinking.
Ace McNugget / July 13, 2012 at 12:53 pm
nice beach, but your comment about it being "quiet" is really misleading. It's chockablock every summer weekend! Maybe you visited on a weekday (BlogTO blogger in non 9-5 job shock!) but that's really not representative.
suntanfan / July 13, 2012 at 01:14 pm
Rectory Cafe is great but you didn't forgot to mention the Toronto Island Cafe that's right in front of the Ward Ferry Dock
amy replying to a comment from suntanfan / July 13, 2012 at 01:21 pm
YES! I was just about to mention the Island Cafe. Perfect place to grab a bite or an ice cream! Also they have amaaaaaazing lemonades.

After reading this, I don't think this writer has gone to Ward's at all...
Soused / July 13, 2012 at 01:23 pm
Um don't go here it's full of um.....fist pumping 905ers, loud Rob Ford supporters and a nuclear reactor exploded leaving a chernobly-esque fallout waste land. Also teenage couples loudly fighting with each other. don't go.
Karen / July 13, 2012 at 01:29 pm
Agree with many of the comments made here. I was really unimpressed when I went a few weeks ago - too many people, the water was *very* dirty with algae and all of the rocks in and around the shore make for a not so nice swim. In my opinion there are far better beaches in the city worth people's time.
qwerty replying to a comment from suntanfan / July 13, 2012 at 01:43 pm
Nothing like overpriced everything!!
Captain Krunk / July 13, 2012 at 02:36 pm
Watch out for dragon boat sinking she-devils
Frabjus Day / July 13, 2012 at 02:41 pm
I believe you meant to say that: Technically, "Ward's Island" does not exist -- as an island unto itself. The designation "Ward's Island" for this part of the islands has been on maps since the late 1800s, so "technically" Ward's Island has existed at least since then.
As well, your omission of the wonderful Ward's Island Café was a gross oversight.
Elizabeth from Etobicoke / August 10, 2013 at 09:39 pm
Escape the hustle and bustle without leaving town - It's just a ferry ride away.

Visitors to the Toronto Islands experience "cottage country" without getting in your car or camper and driving for miles - or owning a cottage. In fact, there are no private vehicles in the Islands (however you'd see plenty of bicycles everywhere). On Ward's Island, take a stroll through this urban "cottage country". There's plenty of quaint old houses lining the streets.

Want some fun? Visit the Centreville amusement park. It's made to look like a turn-of-the-century Ontario town. Admission is free. However, going on the rides (which include a log flume ride and a train ride) requires you to buy tickets. The roller-coasters aren't the scary ones you'd find at Canada's Wonderland.

There's a few good beaches on the Islands, where you could swim in the water or play in the sand (the one on Hanlan's is clothing-optional). There's a wharf which you could walk out.

There's even a trout pond where visitors bringing fishing rods and tackle could try their luck, located at Hanlan's, en route to Gibraltar Point.

christina / May 26, 2014 at 02:23 am
Too synical . Leave Toronto and you''ll see how amazing spots like these are.
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