What life is like and how to buy a home on the Toronto Islands

The Toronto Islands are home to around 700 residents. Dilshad Burman finds out what it's like to be an islander and what it takes to buy an island home.

By Dilshad Burman

For most of us, the Toronto Islands are a quick getaway without actually having to leave the city. But, about 700 residents are lucky enough to call the islands home.

Kristin Basmadjin lives on Algonquin Island and tells CityNews it’s a special place with a tight knit community.

“It is really small town living in the big city,” Basmadjin said. “It’s such a great community because people all know each other and it’s always a smile … if you get the chance to raise children on the island, you have really hit the jackpot.”

Alison Rogers, Chair of the Toronto Islands Residential Community Trust, echoed the same sentiment.

“It’s a safe place to live. It’s a beautiful place to live. We’re incredibly lucky,” said Rogers. “Whatever small inconveniences come with not being able to drive your car into a driveway, I think are more than made up for.”

Those inconveniences include a lack of grocery stores for example. Island residents shop for essentials on the mainland, and while you don’t necessarily need a boat thanks to the public ferry, it does help to have a bike.

“I consider it my mule and I’ve got two big panniers on it,” shared Basmadjin. “And when I head into the city to do a shopping, I always take a cart on the back. I can carry a lot on that bike – it’s my pride and joy to see how well I can pack my bike and how much I can fit on it.”

And if you forget something or run out, the community comes to the rescue.

“We don’t have a corner store or anything that you can run out to. But we do have this fantastic community and we have this e-group that you can say ‘I’m out of milk’ and you put it on the e-group and within an hour for sure, maybe within 30 seconds you have your milk,” said Rogers. “[Even] the most inane things, ‘I need this very, very specialized screwdriver’ and the guy around the corner has it.”

For entertainment and leisure, three community centres offers lots of activities.

“They’ve got pickleball, I think four days a week right now. There was strength and stretch, which is a stretching class. And there’s a yoga a couple times a week. There’s a youth program there as well and there’s also a breath work program. So, there’s all sorts of things happening that the community can do there,” shared Basmadjin.

One thing that Rogers said they hope to improve on the islands is having them reflect the diversity of the city.

“We have excellent socioeconomic diversity; we are a very LGBTQ friendly community. Unfortunately, there are some mechanisms with the legislation that sort of create a situation where we have a very elderly population and a population of people who really wanna age in place. Also, we are not a very racially diverse community,” explained Rogers. “I think that if you asked anybody, we would see that as an unfortunate thing.”

Rogers adds they are in the process of trying to address that.

“Our housing committee is always looking at possible small projects. I know people are quite hopeful now with the political will to create more affordable housing that we might be able to get some sort of co-op housing into this area … because we would love to have more members of our community and to have a more vibrant and rejuvenating community as well.”

Both Basmadjin and Rogers have lived on the islands for decades but buying a home there is a complicated process.

How to become a Toronto Islands local

Those who are hoping to purchase a home on Toronto Islands and become a island local will be in for a long wait. The process to have the opportunity to purchase a home is based on a 500-person list which one has to apply to get on — managed by the Toronto Islands Residential Community Trust established in 1993. A lottery system determines whether applicants actually make it on the list.

When a house and lease come up for sale, the Toronto Islands Residential Community Trust usually sends offers to the top 150 to 250 people on the list and buyers are normally found within the first 100 names.

“Some of those people have been on the list from the beginning of the trust. The wait can be around 30 years, maybe longer – it depends on how many houses sell. And we only sell, on average, about two houses a year,” said Rogers.

Here’s how you apply to to get on the Purchasers’ List:

  • All applications for the Purchasers’ List must be completed and paid for online or a paper copy must be sent to the Trust by regular mail and be accompanied by $20 for the processing fee.
  • The list will open every two years beginning in October, 2024, filling all spots available. Names are added to the end of the list by a draw.
  • Co-applicants are not permitted and each person can only be permitted to have their name appear once on the list.
  • All applicants must be 18 or 16 years old where required by Ontario Law.
  • Applicants who are turned down will not be refunded their $20.


Once you make it on the list, there is an annual fee of $50 that must be paid by March 15 every year to renew your spot. If payment is not received by the deadline, your name will be removed from the list.

Only 70 homes have been sold since the establishment of the list in 1994. If you manage to buy an island home, it must be your primary residence and it can be passed down only to children or spouses. And while a buyer will own the home, they won’t own the land – which is leased from the province, through the trust.

“There’s sort of three components to the value of an island home. The replacement value, which is what an appraiser comes up with, the lease amount and what’s called an equity amount. And that equity amount is a calculation based on how well your house is maintained over time and to sort of help island homes keep pace with inflation.”

Unlike in the rest of Toronto, there are no offers to be made and no bidding wars for an island home. The price is fixed based on those three components and a potential buyer must pay that price.

“The whole legislative scheme is designed to prevent windfall profits. It’s because this is public land, and that prevents islanders from making a profit off of public land, but it also provides some affordable housing. As difficult as it may be to get to that point on the list, it is generally more affordable housing.”

With files from Meredith Bond

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