If you are a drone pilot visiting Toronto, or if you live in the Greater Toronto Area and happen to own a drone, this article is here to assist you in finding ideal locations where you can fly your drone within the permitted bounds of ‘The 416.’
The first thing to take into consideration before flying a drone is that there is a set of rules and regulations for particular areas that have been positioned for air space safety and to help you avoid potentially losing or destroying your drone.
Remember, whenever you are in control of a drone, you are regarded as a pilot, and your drone is your aircraft.
In Canada, you have the Canadian Aviation Regulations on RPAS operations which every drone pilot must adhere to regardless of where you are flying in Canada.
In Toronto, each region has clearly defined rules on where drones can be flown.
Toronto Parks, Scarborough Parks, and Mississauga Parks do not allow drones or model aircraft of any kind to take off or land on park property. However, they can take off on nearby streets and be flown.
There are controlled airspaces all over the city, which make flying a drone less effortless than one would anticipate it to be.
You might assume that all it takes to fly a drone is going out and unpacking your Mavic 2 for an afternoon cruise over the city, when in fact, it is more complicated and detailed than that.
For pilots licensed exclusively under basic operations, flights in many Toronto airspaces are completely prohibited – whereas pilots certified under advanced operations can fly in these air spaces, granted they have acquired legal permission to do so.
Note: All drone pilots must coordinate and maintain contact with Air Traffic control to avoid potential hazardous consequences.
To make things easier for drone pilots, there are applications such as Navdrone and Airmap.
These applications are publicly accessible maps displaying geo zones and airspaces that indicate areas where drones may and may not fly.
They also provide details on border limits, restrictions, and ways to request authorization to fly and all relevant contact details that are necessary when seeking authorization or information.
All these rules and regulations can seem discouraging or tedious, however, they’re implemented with the purpose of ensuring a smooth and danger-free experience for all drone pilots.
Do not be disheartened about going on that joy flight. There is a light at the end of the tunnel, or in this case, the Transport Canada Limited Airways.
There are air spaces for all drone pilots to enjoy flying or simply capturing beautiful scenic imagery of the Greater Toronto Area.
I will be dividing these locations between those accessible to pilots licensed for basic operations only, and pilots licensed for advanced operations.
Top spots for pilots restricted to basic operations
1. Colonel Samuel Smith Park
Colonel Samuel Smith Park is located in the Etobicoke district.
This park is conveniently located about 20 minutes’ drive from Downtown Toronto and is one of the closest parks to the downtown core in uncontrolled airspace.
It’s great for capturing beautiful drone shots of the park with Lake Ontario in the background. Its lakeside views are one of a kind as it flows through and around the park.
In the winter time, the lake trail becomes a skate trail which could make for some interesting shots on a clear winter day.
2. Erindale Park
Erindale Park is the largest park in the Mississauga district.
It doesn’t have the same lake view scenery as Colonel Samuel and other parks in the GTA, but it does have a vibrant forested area which makes for a beautiful scenic flight, especially in the fall.
It is a 25-minute drive from downtown Toronto.
It is also located near the University of Toronto Mississauga campus, rich in architectural pieces of art which provide enough content for an aerial photographer interested in Urban landscape photography.
3. J. C. Saddington Park
Staying in the Mississauga district, we have Saddington Park situated at the exit of the Credit River flowing into Lake Ontario. It’s an estimated 20 minutes drive from downtown Toronto.
You get the lake view with the added advantage of having various yacht clubs around the docks, making for some very nice content and giving pilots a chance to try out different recording techniques like tracking, parallax, and hyperlapse shots.
Or you can stick to the simple but effective straight-in approach from either end of the dock. Many ideas come to mind, which only makes this site more appealing when it comes to choosing where to fly.
4. Scarborough Bluffs
The Scarborough Bluffs, also known as The Bluffs, is an escarpment in the Scarborough district of Toronto, Ontario, Canada. It is an estimated 25 minutes drive from Downtown Toronto.
This is a popular destination for tourists and locals alike for its sandy beaches, towering cliffs and clear blue water, and the overall beauty of nature, especially with the background of Lake Ontario overlooking the park.
The Bluffs is made up of 11 natural parks, one with a beach, which definitely makes for a one-of-a-kind viewing and recording experience.
Note: Always check the surrounding areas nearby when flying in uncontrolled airspaces to check for nearby controlled airspace. You will therefore be able to plan your flight accordingly.
Top locations for pilots certified for advanced operations:
5. Toronto Islands
The Toronto Islands are a chain of 15 small islands in Lake Ontario, south of mainland Toronto. You can visit the islands on a quick boat ride across Lake Ontario from the Harbourfront.
It is a 5-minute drive from Downtown Toronto, so no long drives need be anticipated.
If there’s traffic, you can walk or explore Toronto using the city bikes and enjoy a bicycle ride on your way to the harbourfront.
6. Toronto Harbourfront
Before setting out for Toronto Islands, as a drone pilot, you will definitely see all the potential shots right in front of you, from the beautiful lake views to the numerous landmarks close by, such as the CN Tower.
The amount of content to be gathered is infinite.
7. Downtown Toronto
The Toronto city skyline is arguably the most beautiful skyline in the Country, as far as urban landscape photography is concerned, featuring the CN Tower, along with the Royal Ontario Museum, Scotiabank Arena, and many more artistic pieces of architecture that surround the city.
It is the perfect site for seasoned drone pilots to test their skills and capture amazing content.
Note: Taking off from City-owned property will require permission, but there are no restrictions from flying over the Lake. Remember, when flying in controlled airspace, the requirements would include: an advanced certification, a registered safety-assured drone, and permission from the airspace controller.
Flying drones under 250 grams
According to Transport Canada:
“Pilots of micro drones don’t need to register their drone or get a drone pilot certificate to fly them. Pilots of micro drones are not bound by the same requirements as other drones. However, you must not operate your drone in a reckless or negligent manner as to endanger or be likely to endanger aviation safety or the safety of anyone.
While there are no prescriptive elements of the regulations, there is an expectation that the pilot of a micro drone to use good judgment, identify potential hazards, and take all necessary steps to avoid any risks associated with flying your drone.”
Toronto is blessed with a lot of beautiful locations where a drone pilot can capture some of the best content and view the most magnificent sites, too; but before being able to enjoy this experience, we need to take into account all the steps that must be followed in order to fly safely and legally where we wish to.
Make sure you have all necessary certifications, gain permission where required, register your aircraft should you need to, check for local airspace notices and restrictions, and ultimately enjoy your flight.
Canadian Aviation Regulations (link)