Urban Paddling in Toronto

Most people are unaware that there are some great opportunities for canoeing in Toronto. While the open waters of Lake Ontario are busy with boat traffic and can be tricky except on the calmest of days, several rivers and streams in the city are ideal for a quiet paddle. Probably the best and most popular is a section of the Humber River that meanders from the Old Mill all the way to Lake Ontario. There is even an outfitter there if you want to rent a canoe or kayak for a few hours.

The best thing is you don’t have to go far to immerse yourself in beautiful natural surroundings, and on a Civic Holiday long weekend, spending time on the water is perfect for cooling down in the hot and humid weather. You’ll also get to see the city from a unique perspective (and get plenty of thumbs-up from people on the shore, too).

So what are we waiting for? Let’s go!

The Humber River

Launching near the Old Mill and heading south to Lake Ontario, you’ll have plenty of company with other canoes and kayaks. As you glide through the clam waters, it’s hard to believe that this is right in the heart of the city. Flanked with steep slopes (and people’s back yards) and lush greenery, you are transported a world away from the buzzing metropolis. As the river snakes its way to the lake, there are a lot of hidden places to explore marshland abundant with wildlife.

Along the Waterfront

As you head under the Gardiner Expressway and the Humber Bay Arch Bridge towards Lake Ontario, you definitely feel back in the city again. Lots of car traffic overhead, and plenty of pedestrians on the bridge are bemused at a canoe passing beneath them. Most paddlers would turn around here and head back up the river, but we decide instead to head east on the lake along the waterfront. A series of breakwaters protect the shoreline as long as you stay behind them, the water is calm and great for paddling.

Along the route there several small beaches, a marina and boat club, and eventually the Exhibition Grounds waterfront where the Caribana Festival was in full swing. You might even have the chance to help some tourists unfortunate enough to have flipped their canoe (no worries, they took it all in stride)!

Ontario Place

If you paddle far enough, you will arrive at Ontario Place, a former theme park now planned for redevelopment by the City of Toronto. Currently the site is home to a concert venue, a marina, and the iconic Cinesphere (a geodesic dome that houses the world’s first IMAX theatre). Being in a canoe allows you to explore the park from a completely different vantage point, and for me this was the highlight of the excursion.

While it’s clear that the park has seen better days (most buildings are closed and in various states of disrepair), the place has lost none of its charm and character. Let’s hope that redevelopment of this prime lakefront property will restore some of its former glory – I’m sure many Torontonians have fond childhood memories of Ontario Place.

Location Map and Route

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