Alone on Toronto Island

With the Toronto Islands officially reopening tomorrow (Monday, July 31), it’s an exciting time for Torontonians who have missed their dose of beautiful views, picnics under the tree, kayaking throughout the islands, and biking around its many paths.

 

The recent increase in water levels here in Toronto started from a constant rainfall that plummeted the ground with over 50mm in just three days. More rain thereafter over-saturated the grounds and left the city with local flooding in parks and inside people’s homes. More than 40 percent of the Toronto Islands was left under water forcing the city to shut down the island, cancelling two ferry routes and limiting the one operating ferry route to transport only residents and emergency staff.

For those that were fortunate enough to stay dry and carried on with their daily routines, it can be difficult to imagine the damage caused by Mother Nature, while on the other hand, those that were affected know all too well how much work it has been to recover from the flooding.

It’s for this very reason that I wanted to discover and document exactly what had happened on the islands. With a green light from the city, I took to the Toronto Islands on June 3 to document the aftermath. With these photos, I hope I’m able to shed some light as to how much water there was, and to what the city was doing to prevent even more flooding from occurring.

While I only had the chance to cover the eastern portion of the island, these pictures speak for themselves. Later, I was told that the western portion of the island had it even worse. As I made my way through the islands, it was as if I was alone, walking through an abandoned island of some sort. With the exception of the residents that I saw walking throughout, the staff pumping water out and fortifying the shorelines with sand bags, and the countless number of kayakers I encountered, it still left me with an empty feeling inside.

Getting off the ferry at Ward’s Island, I immediately noticed all the palettes on the ground, which helped carry all of the sand bags that lined the shoreline.

Palettes line the grounds on Ward’s Island as large sand bags line the shores.

Walking through the residential area of the island, I encountered many pathways under water. Sand bags lined either sides, which prevented more water from coming in.

Sand bags line both sides of the pathway.

Making my way further west, the flood had left this field completely empty on a day that would normally see many families and children playing on it.

What is normally a busy field is left completely empty.

The water level was so high that it covered a good portion of the bottom of the lifeguard’s chair on Ward’s Island Beach.

The water level by the beach extended far past the lifeguard’s chair, which is normally on the sandy beach.

The water spilled from the marina over the grass to the road, forcing the city to line the edges with sand bags.

More sand bags protecting the road from flooding.

This was the first of many kayakers that I saw that day. It was a beautiful and sunny day, which was perfect for kayaking through the island. I believe there were even kayak and boat tours passing through that day.

Kayaking through the island was quite popular that day.

As I continued my journey to Algonquin Island, there were more generators pumping water out from the pathways back to Lake Ontario. Can you imagine living in front of these generators, having to hear them roaring all day and night?

A generator pumps water from the pathway back to Lake Ontario.

What would normally be a fantastic view of the Toronto skyline, we now see a countless number of sand bags lined along the shores, protecting residents from more water coming in.

Sand bags line the shores of Algonquin Island.

Water flooded from the lake onto the surrounding grass. I was told by a passerby that they saw carp swimming nearby not too long ago, which only means there was even more water than this before.

A grassy patch of land is now flooded with water. With water levels subsiding a little, we now see dead carp laying on the grass.

Walking further west, there was this “Road Closed” sign surrounded by water. The water levels were quite high on the road looking beyond the sign. Fortunately I was wearing rubber boots that went just a few inches short of my knees. Unfortunately with the waves created by me walking and the vehicles passing by, I had to really be careful to prevent water from coming into my boots. I found this out the hard way when a City of Toronto truck drove by me, creating excessive waves that caught me by surprise.

The road was closed for a good reason. The water levels were so high on the road in some areas that my pants above my rubber boots even got wet.

The Toronto Island Disc Golf Course was completely submerged in water. It’s hard to believe all of this water came from the lake which was on the other side of the road.

A playing field is completely submerged in water, making for some very clear reflections.

A look straight down the road reveals that there is absolutely no dry pavement in sight. The lake is to the right of the trees on the right side of the road, and what would normally be a field on the left side of the road is now a pond for ducks to swim through.

With a minimum of 3/4 of a foot of water above the road, you’d be hard pressed to find any dry pavement looking down.

This is a popular spot for photographers as you can see the Toronto skyline and the CN Tower through a break in the island up ahead. The field—or pond—was so deep in some areas that it came pretty close to the top of my boots.

The pond continues as I made my way on the road to this popular viewing spot of the Toronto skyline.

A check of the water level on the road was in order. As you can see, it wasn’t too bad an area where I was standing, but just a few feet away on the field, the water level was easily double this.

The water level on top of the road wasn’t as bad as it was off the road in some areas.

This area offers a great view of the Toronto skyline. However, seeing as the water levels were quite high, I couldn’t go any further than this. The water was just a few centimetres away from the top of my boots at this point, so unfortunately this was the closest I could get from the edge.

A great vantage point of the Toronto skyline is now a great place for reflections.

You may not be able to tell how deep the water level is from the picture above, but if you look at the photo below, you’ll see that the sand bags placed here were no match to the amount of water that came through. It may have been about 3/4 of a foot of water at the sand bags.

These sand bags were not enough to keep all that water away from the road.

As I was taking these photos, a city of Toronto truck came driving past me. It slowed down just a little bit but the waves it produced after passing by were so big that my pants got soaked.

This city of Toronto truck that came by made such a big wave that it caught me by surprise and soaked my pants.

As I continued my journey westward—now with wet pants—it was hard to believe how much of the fields so far into the island were submerged. I wouldn’t be surprised if this part of the island was affected the most in the east end.

The high water level just kept going as I walked further and further west.

Making my way slowly to Centre Island, I saw another open field that would normally be filled with families. Without anybody around, it really did feel as if I had the whole island to myself.

Another field that would normally be filled with families is now completely empty.

The bicycle rental was closed, with no sign of life anywhere during the middle of the day on a weekend.

No lineup at the bicycle rental.

The Beach House was empty with no tables or chairs in sight. The food truck seems like it has been parked there for a while.

Empty tables and no lineups at the Beach House by the entrance to the Centre Island Pier.

Walking on the Centre Island Pier I did see a couple making their way out, but afterwards there wasn’t a single person in sight.

The Centre Island Pier is normally crowded with people walking up and down, but today, I had it all to myself.

Turning around to look down the Avenue of the Island, I was happy to see the lawn still well maintained with flower beds on either side of the pathway. Eventually I did pass by a few workers on golf carts driving around, transporting sand bags from one end of the island to the other. If you look hard enough, you’ll see one of these carts in the photo below. You can’t see them? Look right in the center of the photo!

Looking straight down the Avenue of the Island, there isn’t a single person in sight.

This Maple Leaf cart has seen better days.

This Maple Leaf cart seems like it hasn’t had any sales in a while.

Walking into Centre Island I was greeted by a large group of kayakers. I’m not sure where they came from, but they followed me to my next destination, which was the grandstand and boat drop-off/loading area that you can see in the distance to the right in the photo above.

A group of kayakers making their way through the island.

The grandstand is a great place to sit and watch the dragon boat races in the summer. That bottom level, however, is certainly no place to watch anything now. The water level was so high here I ended up soaking both my feet as the water overflowed into my boots. As I was drying my feet off, a kayaker came through and pulled himself through the bleachers. To the far right of this photo, you can see a number of boats that paddled their way here and took a break by the nearby field.

A kayaker pulls himself through the flooded bleachers.

As I walked further into Centre Island, I came upon the bridge that opens up to Olympic Island. As soon as I walked over it, this is the view I saw. There was water everywhere! Apart from the one person I saw in the distance resting by the picnic tables, the area was empty and the water so still, it offered some spectacular reflections.

This is the first sight I saw as I stepped foot on to Olympic Island.

As I was taking some photos, this cyclist came down the path out of nowhere. I thought to myself how that could have been a more effective way to go through this island!

A cyclist rides by as I was taking photos.

I think one of my favourite photos that I took through this entire trip was of this tree. It stood by its lonesome, but did so very powerfully. With water surrounding it, the tree reflected perfectly below it. It was striking to see and it instantly caught my attention.

I shared this view with a kayaker that I met, but she didn’t seem to be as enthusiastic about it as I was.

Someone else I was talking to said these picnic tables must have been one of the most photographed picnic tables lately as they made for some great photos with the Toronto skyline and its reflection.

There must have been about 2/3 of a foot of water here.

Well, at least this little guy was making good use of the picnic table.

At least someone/something is enjoying the picnic tables.

Olympic Island is typically host to many outdoor concerts and activities, but with so much flooding, it’s hard to imagine anything happening on these grounds this summer.

The picnic tables were flooded with water, much like how most of Olympic Island was.

This was the second dead carp I found that day—this one being devoured by the seagull who made every attempt to keep an eye on me in case I made any sudden movement. He wouldn’t even let his buddy seagull—just to the left of this photo—get anywhere near the carp!

A seagull feasts on a carp on the pathway on Olympic Island.

You can see how much of the main field on Olympic Island is covered in water. And with more rainfall happening every week, it’s hard to believe the water level will go down here anytime soon.

Olympic Island seems to have had it quite bad.

Exiting Olympic Island, I came out to Centreville Theme Park. All the shop windows were boarded up, the walkways empty, and the rides yearning for riders to come and enjoy them. There wasn’t a person in sight.

The rides, which should have been filled with children having fun, were still and the silence deafening without the screaming and laughter.

That is, until I met this fellow, who startled me at first as he started following me around the park. I wondered why he was just roaming around aimlessly on a deserted island. He eventually went back to where he came from, the Far Enough Farm. Over there, I met up with fellow cyclists who were admiring a second peacock.

The beautiful peacock with its iridescent blue plumage came right up to me as I was taking photos of the theme park.

Following the peacock to the farm, I passed by this Duck Pond, which needed a little maintenance, to say the least. The pond was filled with feathers, leaves, and waste, with the smell from the farm not helping the situation either.

The water by the farm was filthy with bird feathers, waste, and grass.

Empty cages and fenced areas were all I saw, with the exception of the peacocks and some of their friends. The rest of the animals from the farm had been transported off the island to be cared for just north of the city for the duration of the season.

Most other animals in the farm were transported off the island.

As I was admiring the peacock from afar, I heard this loud crying noise; this curious duck came walking towards me, probably wondering what I was up to. At the same time not too far away, I heard voices coming from the barn. So in a bid to save myself from this annoyingly crying duck, I made my way to the voices.

The Mighty Duck?

As it turns out, the barn was filled with sheep and rabbits. A staff member was tending to them while explaining to some visitors about the animals. “She won’t acknowledge you because she’s angry right now,” says the worker about one of the rabbits, as we each shifted our attention to the other rabbits that did notice us. The sheep were very friendly, and made for some happy encounters for us at the farm. But at the end of the day, it was these peacocks that surprised us all with their strikingly rich plumage.

This peacock, apparently not afraid of humans, followed me around the farm.

As I was walking back to Centre Island, I came across this sign that read, “Do not walk over bridge.” I looked around but didn’t see any bridges in sight. I did see these railway tracks leading into Duck Pond though, which just goes to show you exactly how much the water level had risen even in this pond.

“Do not walk over bridge.” Bridge? What bridge?

At this point, I had been walking around the eastern portion of the island for about five hours and now had to make my way back to Ward’s Island to catch the return ferry. But before doing so I took a few more photos to illustrate the severity of this flood. These sand bags lined the shores of the beach by the Centre Island Pier, and stretched for as long as my eyes could see. I was told there were more than 40,000 sand bags placed all around and throughout the island so far (back in early June). That number has probably risen by now.

Sand bags lined the beach.

I was able to make my way back to Ward’s Island bypassing all the water-logged roads by walking along the Lakeshore Ave. boardwalk. But seeing sights like those below, just by the ferry dock, it reminds you of how much trouble the Toronto Islands and its residents have gone through and will continue to go through until the water level substantially subsides.

Grassland flooded with water.

With all of the rain we had been getting the last few months, it’s been a continuous struggle with Mother Nature for staff and residents to deal with the excess water.

I hope these photos illustrate the severity of the flooding the Toronto Islands has had over the last few months, and that it is indeed a serious matter. From the last announcement that mayor John Tory made, the city will open part of the island for the month of August, with select areas with higher water levels still closed off until further notice.

Ferry tickets can now be purchased online at http://www.toronto.ca/ferry so I encourage everyone to go to the island this summer to support the local cafés and establishments, and to remember exactly how fun it is to lose yourself on the island for one glorious afternoon.


Will you be heading to the Toronto Islands this summer? Let me know what you plan on doing in the comments below!

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