Early March in Toronto is not the time of year to check out its ferries, and that was not on my mind at all when we took a trip there in 2018. I first set foot in Canada in 1975 at Toronto Airport (how on earth did it get the code YYZ?), and for a few years after we went there fairly often to visit friends. We even combined a trade show with a family visit in the early 1990s and I remember we took our young kids over to the Toronto Islands on the ferry. But lately Toronto just hasn't seemed to offer us Montrealers much of a reason to make the long drive down the 401.
But with a new base half way between Montreal and Toronto we took the opportunity to book a show and built a small sojourn around that. The winds off the lake, speeding up through the canyons of skyscrapers, made walking around outside quite miserable, and the cost of a couple of nights’ accommodation was way more than expected due to a petroleum conference taking over the town. But even so we had a fun couple of days; the show was good, we took in a couple of fascinating museums and vowed to be back again soon.
So, the ferry? We’d booked a meal one night in the revolving restaurant at the top of the CN Tower. This was less expensive and better quality than we’d expected, and it turned into a well worthwhile deal as we had access to the top of the tower thrown in to the cost. It was a good clear night and we enjoyed the wait for each course as we watched the city pass round beneath us at a rate of about 1 revolution per hour. And there, way down below us, was what used to be called Toronto Island Airport, but is now called Billy Bishop Toronto City Airport. It was fascinating to watch the planes landing and taking off so far beneath us. It’s not often you get a chance to look down on airports.
And the ferry? The airport is on an island, and despite years of discussion and proposals no bridge has yet been built, even though the air traffic has grown enormously in recent years. So there is a ferry to take people and cars the 161 metres from the shore to the island – a 90 second trip. The photos here, taken in the dark, through the glass of the restaurant window at the top of the CN Tower without my best camera, “could be better”. But when we make that promised return visit we will come in a more walkable time of year, and I’ll take some better shots.
The ferry runs every 15 minutes now, and is mainly used by cars since the pedestrian tunnel was opened in 2015. The island has had an airfield there since the late 1930s, when the first ferry, a 48 passenger cable ferry was introduced. When it opened it was intended to be Toronto’s (main) airport. Since then it has had a mixed history, serving as a base for the exiled Royal Norwegian Air Force during the war, and for banner-towing operations and various short-lived airlines serving mainly Ontario routes. And in 1975 it was the base of operations for the Sikorsky S-64 Skycrane "Olga" used in the construction of the CN Tower.
Since Porter Airlines set up shop flying from there with Q400s, with Air Canada eventually copying them, it has become well established and busy. But I feel Torontonians have a love-hate relationship, disliking the plane traffic and the spending on the facilities, while enjoying the business and convenience the airport provides. So, while a bridge was very much in the works a few years ago, it was eventually abandoned in favour of the pedestrian tunnel and keeping the ferry mainly for vehicles, though pedestrians can still use it for free. A typically inadequate compromise, though one to please ferry lovers.