I have taken rides on the five Toronto Island ferries many times, to go to the Toronto Islands for work or just on a day off to enjoy an event. Most people wouldn’t get a chance to visit the wheelhouses and take in the view from the captain’s seat. I decided to go and see what it was like.
Captain Allan Neilson, a 15-year veteran of the ferry service, agreed to have me spend some time with him aboard the Sam McBride, which has been carrying passengers back and forth to the Toronto Islands since 1939. It is a double-ended ferry with dual wooden wheelhouses and twin engines, so the captain doesn’t need to turn the ship around – only to cross the top deck from one wheelhouse to another as the ship changes direction.
Mr. Neilson prefers to use the large old ship’s wheel to steer the old ferry instead of the newer steering mechanism. He looks like he belongs behind the wheel, smiling as he watches for other boats, keeping the ferry headed for the dock across the way. He and his first mate will carefully count passengers as they board the vessel, keeping track of the passenger numbers in the ship’s log. (Between the May long weekend and the September long weekend, ferries will carry approximately a million passengers to and from the islands.)
After I’ve spent a few hours with the captain as he goes about his day, he says: “Who could ask for a better view out your office window?” I agree wholeheartedly.
Toronto, Brought to Light: For this summer series, The Globe and Mail’s team of award-winning photojournalists get behind the scenes around the city – uncovering what’s hidden, capturing the unexpected, in places they’ve always wanted to go.