Porter Airlines uses the larger jets taking off from the airport.

Kayaking to Billy Bishop Airport near the Toronto Islands

Usually paddlers are looking for a little bit of peace and quiet when they set out in a canoe or kayak. But when you live in the heart of a high-density urban area, that’s not always an option. Sometimes, rather than trying to squeeze the best nature experience you can get out of a city, you just have to fully embrace it for what it is and paddle directly into the heart of the mayhem.

Toronto’s Lake Ontario waterfront presents exactly that opportunity. There’s plenty of room in the harbour for serene paddling in between the islands too, but I’ll get to that in a later blog post. One unique experience is made possible by Billy Bishop Airport, Toronto’s downtown airport that is actually based on an island just a short distance from the main land. Travellers flying in and out of the airport ride a large ferry to travel over the water. This distance can also easily be covered with a paddle.

You can easily paddle over to do some plane watching from the Toronto Harbourfront Centre, which serves as a convenient access point and a place to rent a boat should you need one. From there, you’ll see the airport to your southwest – it is the closest island to you. Simply paddle over and park yourself next to the buoys that set up a perimeter around the end of the runway. Grab your camera and settle in, and wait for the planes to come.

View Billy Bishop Airport plane watching in a larger map

While I was floating during a weekend day in October, there seemed to be a flight coming in or taking off once every several minutes. Many of them were small sport planes, but some of them were the larger jets that Porter Airlines uses for short-haul flights to the U.S. and Canada. The noise isn’t as loud as you’d think, but the show is great. There’s one flight path that takes planes across the entire city skyline after it shoots off the runway.

Take note of the safety buoys and mind that you don’t get too close. Not only is it dangerous, but you’ll likely get in trouble with the law (a nearby police station is likely not a coincidence). So follow the rules!

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Brian has been canoeing his entire life, going on his first multi-day backcountry out trip when he was 13. Brian worked at summer camps as an out trip leader and canoe instructor, and now lives in Toronto and works as a technology trends analyst. He escapes to go canoeing whenever possible.


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  1. Pingback: Humber River Canoeing Or Kayaking: Urban Paddling In Toronto

    • Mike
    • June 22, 2020

    Planning on paddling Toronto harbour. Put in at Ontario Place. Paddle through the gap north of island airport and south to Centre Island. Asking what restrictions if any for doing this trip?

      • Brian Jackson
      • June 22, 2020

      Mike you will be fine to paddle that route. There are restrictions for the water around Billy Bishop Airport and you’ll see buoys clearly marking that area. Just steer well clear of those and there’s no problem.

    • Bois Wilson
    • September 17, 2020

    Hi Brian – am planning to kayak down Humber river, behind the breakwater to almost Ontario Place – then across the “channel” from the hole in the breakwater to the Hanlan’s beach (that part I’ve done once before) then clockwise around the island to return to Hanlan’s and then across the lake to Humber. (done that last bit once before too). Do you reckon that circling the island (particularly around the airport & harbour area) will be reasonably safe? I will stay outside of the airport buoys, but am worried about water taxis etc from the island and other shipping in the harbour area. Do you think if I keep as close as possible to the shore of the island as I go round that I will be reasonably safe? I was hoping that in shallower waters etc the water taxis etc will be moving slower and a bit more cautious? Am I being silly? Any comments appreciated.

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