Centre Island and Centreville

There are times when the annoying habits of my children prove to be useful.  Sam’s temper tantrums while embarrassing in public places, can also expedite our place in a long line-up.  Jack’s urgency to pee sometimes relates to private washroom facilities that are far nicer than the ones reserved for the average public.

Perhaps the most annoying habit that can be beneficial at times is that they have to wake up the second the sun rises.  They are up before roosters.  They are up before the club crowd stumbles home.  They are up when the morning paper hits the front door with a thud.  On the weekends, it doesn’t get much worse than being jolted out of bed at 6 a.m.  Correction: being jolted out of bed at 6 a.m. with a blistering hangover and a mouth as dry as the Gobi to tend to your screaming brood of kids is worse.  Much, much worse.

However, on this particular weekend the adage “the early bird gets the worm” rang true.  We boarded the 9:30 am ferry to Centre Island.  We were among the first people to disembark on the island.

It is easy to see why hundreds of years ago the island was a place of relaxation and spiritual awakening for the Native Canadians living in the area.  There is something instantly serene about being on the island before it becomes overcrowded with tourists and families.  The Toronto skyline is a beautiful and stark contrast to the lush gardens, century-old weeping willows and hectors of green grass begging to be trodden upon.

During the 1800’s Centre Island was actually a sandbar that had made its way over from the Scarborough Bluffs.  The idyllic setting was accessible by travelling along Lake Shore Boulevard.  In 1858 the island was officially formed when a severe storm severed the sandbar completely.  Around this time it became the location for Toronto’s wealthy to build their Victorian style summer homes and take advantage of the fresh sea air.  From what I have read, vacationing to a summer home on the island is much like today when Torontonians make their weekly pilgrimage up to Muskoka.  I am guessing the commute across the lake was a lot less stressful than idling in traffic on the 400 highway.

Today Centre Island is home to marinas, playgrounds, bike paths, public beaches (including one clothing optional . . . for all of your little (or big) exhibitionists) and our destination: Centreville.

Centreville is an amusement park geared to families with children under the age of ten.  There are 20+ kiddy rides, some of which can be ridden without an adult, bumper cars and a mini-putt for the older kids.

Thinking about making the trek?  Here’s what you need to know:

  • Taking the Ferry:  With kids the fun begins as soon as you get on the ferry and start making your way across to the island.  Kids have a great view of Porter airplanes taking off and landing at the Island Airport.  The TTC has several routes to get your family to the ferry but if you are like me and want to minimize your Sherpa-ing, there is plenty of parking to be found but at downtown prices.  Weekend rates are between $15-$25, depending on which lot you choose.  Tip: Try to get on the 9:30 am Ferry.  If you arrive after 11 am be prepared to wait in a very long line (sometimes wrapping around the block) to pay for your boarding tickets.
  • Centreville tickets can get pricey so it might be best to get day passes for your kids.  They run around $25 per child.  We bought a sheet of tickets for my husband and I to use.  Any left over tickets can be saved and used at your next visit, even if your next visit is next season. Tip: If you arrive later in the morning and find a long line at the ticket booth, walk into the amusement park (no fee to do so) and find an alternate ticket booth.  There are several located throughout and they have virtually no lines all day long.
  • Many of the rides are appropriate for two year olds.  Just a word of caution: the haunted house really is scary.  My husband’s brilliant plan of taking our 3.5 year old resulted in a terrified child.  The line ups for the rides get long after noon so it is recommended that you get to the park early and/or have things in your backpack to occupy your child while waiting for their turn.
  • In addition to the rides there is a large splash pad, a farm with a petting zoo and pony rides, bike paths and a playground.  Outside Centreville is the Franklin Children’s Garden.  We didn’t have a chance to check it out before the boys were completely exhausted but plan to do so on our next visit.
  • If you are not the picnicking type, there are several fast food kiosks to grab lunch, as well as a few sit down restaurants.  If you do decide to bring your lunch beware that the ducks, geese and birds are not the most gracious hosts and will take their share of your lunch.  And possibly freak your kids out in the process.  I am terrified of birds so I refuse to bring my lunch on that basis alone.  That and I hate being a pack mull for the entire day.  Tip:  There are lockers on the premises but they take $2 coins only.

Cost Savings: Click here for a $2 off per pass coupon or order your tickets online directly through Centreville’s website.

Since this was my first time to Centreville as a mom, please share with me your favourite Centre Island tips.  We plan on making a trip back before the end of the summer.