May 28th, 2017

Flooding on Toronto’s islands: cancelled weddings, closed amusement parks and spawning carp

By Liam Casey, The Canadian Press on May 19, 2017.

TORONTO – The Toronto Islands, a popular tourist destination and home to hundreds of city residents, are a soggy mess where carp are spawning on flooded roadways, public attractions are shuttered and large areas are under water.

Rising water levels in Lake Ontario, brought on in part by heavy rains in recent weeks, have led the city to close the islands to the general public and cancel permits for scheduled events until June 30, a situation that has left couples with weddings planned at island destinations scrambling to find alternative venues.

More than half the buildings on the Toronto Islands – which sit a short ferry ride from the city’s downtown core – are threatened by water levels that are expected to keep rising for several weeks even if there’s no more rain.

But for many who live on the islands, the flooding and continuing threat to homes is being taken in stride.

“We’re islanders and we’re pretty resilient,” said Susan Roy, who has lived in the community for decades.

“It is incredible to see nature taking back the island. You know, the island comes from nature and now it’s like it’s going back to nature.”

Roy, who is chair of a Toronto Island community group, noted that while most homes haven’t been heavily damaged, businesses are taking a hit.

“We’re not sure when the island will be open to the public again, so that’s hard to take,” she said. “But all things considered, it could be much worse.”

Ralph McQuinn, who runs Toronto Harbour Water Taxi, is less optimistic, noting that his business is already suffering.

“I’m gonna take a big hit – I already have,” said McQuinn, who just bought two new boats for his operation. “If I would have known I wouldn’t have bought those boats. But how would I have known?”

Thousands of sandbags have been set up along the shoreline of the islands and industrial pumps are currently removing 500,000 litres of water per hour from the communities.

Claire Boghdan, an arborist who was watching several carp spawn on a flooded roadway, said she’s been helping fill sandbags and checking on the health of island trees.

“A big willow tree went down the other day,” she said. “There’s so much water that the ground becomes too soft to support these big trees, so some of them are just popping out and coming down.”

Officials have said parts of the islands could remain closed through to August. The public school on the island was closed earlier this week, with students relocated to a school on the mainland for the rest of the term.

The city has said 261 buildings, or about 52 per cent of the structures on the islands, are at risk of damage from flooding, while about 40 per cent of the Toronto Island Park is already under water.

“We can’t have people even where it appears to be dry walking around because there are buildings that are at risk,” Toronto Mayor John Tory said after touring parts of the islands on Friday.

Coun. Pam McConnell, who also visited the islands, said several beaches are underwater and will likely be damaged permanently, maybe destroyed. The popular Centreville Amusement Park is also underwater, she said.

“This is, I think, the worst I’ve seen it,” she said. “Life has been disrupted dramatically, but we’ll survive.”

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