Tommy Thompson Park may be located on a manmade peninsula but a concerned community group is hoping it remains Toronto’s most natural destination.
On July 1, official responsibility of the park was transferred from the Toronto and Region Conservation Authority to the City of Toronto Parks, Forestry and Recreation division in accordance with a 1972 waterfront agreement.
“That says the TRCA, in partnership with the city, will build the parks and that upon substantial completion will hand over the operations and management of these parks to the city,” said Nancy Gaffney, waterfront specialist with the conservation authority.
However, because of the ecological significance of Tommy Thompson Park the conservation authority and the city will work together to care for the area. The conservation authority will continue to deal with issues such as shoreline management and area enhancement while the city will deal with nuisance wildlife, maintenance and enforcement of bylaws.
“It’s very unique and Tommy Thompson is very unique in itself in that it is an urban wilderness park and that’s why TRCA is maintaining a lot of our roles and responsibilities right now,” Gaffney said.
The park is located at the base of Leslie Street on a long, narrow track of land known as the Leslie Street Spit. It was created from a mixture of rumble, excess fill and dredged material from Toronto Harbour but is now home to a mixture of undisturbed plants and wild animals such as owls and coyotes.
Members of the group Friends of the Spit want the park’s new owners to keep it in its natural state.
“It’s very important it stay completely wild,” said John Carley, co-chair of the group. “We’ve always said no private cars, no development.”
In the 1980s and ’90s several projects were proposed for the park including a 400-car parking lot beside the lighthouse, a historic museum, a driving range and multiple sailing clubs. Carley is pleased with the three new structures being built on the peninsula including a bathroom and lookout point. He said excessive signage and garbage bins are now the remaining threats.
“All those things we’ve fought off so I think the Spit is safe from that kind of development,” he said. “Now what you worry about is that it’s death by a thousand cuts.”
According to James Dann, the city’s manager of waterfront parks, Carley has nothing to fear now that the city has taken over.
“We understand the unique nature of that park and don’t plan on changing that,” Dann said. “We’re not building condos or arenas. We’re trying to carry on with the work that’s been going on there for such a long time that’s been so positive.”
Carley is also concerned though, about the fate of the Tommy Thompson Park Advisory Committee. He has sat on the committee since it’s inception more than 10 years ago, but said that it’s absence may have a negative affect on activities within the park.
“In a transition what happens is no one has a collective memory of what happened before,” Carley said. “It’s important that the collective memory and resources of the group carry on.”
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