Toronto Is­lands set to re­open af­ter flood­ing

‘We’re ex­cited,’ says café chief. ‘Fan­tas­tic,’ says wa­ter taxi boss

The Hamilton Spectator - - CANADA & WORLD - SALMAAN FAROOQUI

TORONTO — The pop­u­lar Toronto Is­lands are set to re­open to the pub­lic Mon­day af­ter a nearly three-month clo­sure due to his­toric flood­ing.

Heavy rains in the spring caused wa­ter lev­els in Lake On­tario to rise to record highs, clos­ing the clus­ter of is­lands to vis­i­tors as trees fell over, roads were washed out and carp spawned in large, muddy pud­dles.

Is­land busi­nesses — which rely on the busy sum­mer sea­son for a large por­tion of their rev­enue — suf­fered losses as their flow of cus­tomers slowed to a trickle, res­i­dents who lived on the is­lands stacked sand­bags in an ef­fort to keep their homes dry and in­dus­trial pumps worked to re­move wa­ter from wa­ter­logged ar­eas.

The is­lands were sup­posed to re­open on June 30 but per­sis­tent rain and high wa­ter lev­els kept them closed.

With Mon­day’s open­ing date now in sight, is­land res­i­dents and busi­nesses said they were happy the com­mu­nity will be able to ben­e­fit from tourism again.

But many res­i­dents say they’ll also miss hav­ing the is­land all to them­selves.

“It was, at points, sur­real,” said Shane Kear­ney, an is­land res­i­dent, who said that an en­tire gen­er­a­tion of is­lan­ders have never had the is­land to them­selves like this.

“It was beau­ti­ful. You could go for bike rides and not see one per­son.”

As of Thurs­day morn­ing, the is­land al­ready had more of a buzz in the air as crews started to pre­pare for next week’s vis­i­tors. Pumps were still flush­ing out wa­ter in some closed-off ar­eas, but many of the spots that had been sub­merged only had small pud­dles.

At the Is­land Café, a restau­rant a short walk from the is­land’s east­ern ferry ter­mi­nal, co-owner Zo­rah Free­man-McIntyre said busi­nesses on the is­land have been ready to re­ceive guests for a while.

“As soon as (word) gets out, I think the boats will be quite packed,” he said. “We’re ex­cited for peo­ple to come and for our busi­nesses to thrive again.”

Free­man-McIntyre said all the busi­nesses had been frus­trated the is­lands couldn’t open ear­lier, but un­der­stood that the flood­ing posed some safety con­cerns.

Toronto’s wa­ter taxi ser­vices have also been an­tic­i­pat­ing the open­ing date, as they lost out on large chunks of busi­ness when the is­lands were closed.

Sean Ste­wart, CEO of In­fin­ity Wa­ter Taxi, said he only started his busi­ness 10 weeks ago. To off­set the lack of is­land vis­i­tors, Ste­wart said he had to ap­proach ho­tels and busi­nesses to of­fer more tours of the lake, rather than just taxi­ing vis­i­tors back and forth from the is­lands.

He said it’s a re­lief to learn busi­ness will soon go back to nor­mal.

“It is fan­tas­tic news, it’s great to know that we can have a piece of our his­tory back again,” said Ste­wart.

Some parts of the Toronto Is­lands will still have to re­main closed, the city said.

All beaches will be open with life­guards on duty, but por­tions of some beaches will re­main off-lim­its due to ero­sion and Olympic Is­land will re­main closed to the pub­lic due to high wa­ter lev­els.

Mayor John Tory has said the cost of fix­ing the dam­age done to the city’s shore­lines and the Toronto Is­lands will run to many mil­lions of dol­lars. The city said Thurs­day that pre­lim­i­nary num­bers sug­gest the flood­ing and clo­sure of the is­land had a fi­nan­cial im­pact of $4.9 mil­lion on its op­er­at­ing bud­get.

“I know that for many Toron­to­ni­ans sum­mer isn’t com­plete with­out a visit to the Toronto Is­lands, which is why I’m so pleased that the park is be­ing re­opened for res­i­dents and vis­i­tors to en­joy,” Tory said Thurs­day.

“I want to thank city staff for their tire­less and on­go­ing com­mit­ment to pre­serv­ing and restor­ing the is­land park and to res­i­dents for their pa­tience through­out this un­prece­dented event.”

Is­land res­i­dent Jen­nifer Scott Wood said she’s happy the is­lands are open­ing, but she’s go­ing to tell her rel­a­tives to skip the visit this year.

The ground is mushy and it’s not a great play spot,” she said, adding that a lot of ar­eas were mosquito-laden through­out the day and that the is­land had tested pos­i­tive for West Nile virus.

“If you go on the grass it’s very ... gross,” she said. “I hope we don’t have this again for an­other 30 or 40 years.”


Flooded beaches are shown as the Toronto Is­lands are threat­ened by ris­ing wa­ter lev­els in May. The wa­ter­logged Is­lands will fi­nally re­open to the pub­lic on Mon­day.

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