When spring appears in Toronto in early April, it can be tempting for the backcountry enthusiast to continue hibernating until the season finally changes up north – much, much later. However, spring is actually the best time to paddle the Greater Toronto Area’s creeks and rivers because these waterways are often too shallow to paddle later in the year.
Our first paddle of the year tends to be the Rouge River or Paddle The Don, but we decided to change it up this year and head west to the Humber River instead. Just a few weeks before, we hiked a section of the Humber River and saw huge boulders of ice piled up on shore 10 feet high, so yesterday we crossed our fingers and hoped that they had melted.
Our first stop was Brian’s aunt’s house in East York, where we leave our canoe for the winter. To store the canoe, we simply put it upside-down on some cinder blocks in her backyard.
We need the space in our teeny tiny townhouse garage in the winter, plus it gives us an excuse to visit a truly lovely woman more than we might otherwise. (In fact, when we lived in an apartment with no storage space, we stored our canoe there all the time and loved visiting her even more often.)
From there, we drove to the northern end of King’s Mill Park, which is just south of Old Mill subway station. Pro tip: Don’t park in The Old Mill Hotel lot north of Bloor – there is plenty of free parking in the park right next to the river.
Unfortunately, as soon as we pulled into the parking lot, we could see there was still a tremendous amount of ice on the shore.
We encountered another pair of paddlers who were just putting their canoe back on the top of their car after a few unsuccessful attempts to reach the water. They were covered in mud and warned us that the banks of the river were too high, the ice was too unstable to walk on, and the mud was too deep.
We decided to investigate for ourselves, of course, but after spending some time walking up and down the shore, we realized they were right.
We couldn’t get into the Humber River here without risking slipping on the ice or falling into the cold water.
You can find it on the Humber River Rentals page of their website, but it’s also embedded here:
We referenced the map and found the closest boat ramp location just a few kilometers’ drive away. Pro tip: Punch “Humber Valley Road” into your favourite map app to find the spot.
It was completely free of ice and provided easy access to the water. We found Torontonians there happily enjoying the warm day by walking their dogs and fishing on the river with their kids.
From there, we were on the water in just a few minutes, heading south down the Humber River toward Humber Bay and Lake Ontario.
The water was high, but the current was non-existent, so we were able to take it slow and enjoy the scenery. It’s just over 2km from the boat ramp to Lake Ontario.
True to the Toronto Adventures map, we found a number of quiet, secluded marshes on our way down the river.
While many city folk tend to head north to see wildlife close-up, Toronto’s waterways and wetlands are some of the best places to see all kinds of animals.
We saw countless songbirds, Canada geese, three species of ducks (mallards, wood ducks, and buffleheads), a couple of swans, a red-tailed hawk, a beaver, and even a raccoon! Every so often, we also saw bubbles and swirls of sediment just below the surface, evidence of fish moving through the water.
Everywhere we looked, we saw life.
We also saw plenty of city life, of course, ranging from multi-million dollar Swansea mansions to high-rise apartment and condo buildings, cars and trucks stuck in traffic, TTC buses and streetcars, GO and VIA Rail trains, and bicyclists.
Once we passed under the Queensway Bridge and the Gardiner Expressway, we could see the Humber Bay Bridge and Lake Ontario (well, sort of – the lake was quite foggy, so you could only see a few hundred metres out).
The bridge was busy with Torontonians enjoying the first warm spring day of the year, on foot and on bike. The lake was calm, so we paddled past the bridge to view the downtown skyline from our canoe.