Toronto Island businesses 'losing battle' against flooding, bracing for closures
In an island economy based on tourism, business owners say it's hard to stay afloat without tourists
It was a sunny, hot start to the week in Toronto — but on Monday afternoon, there were only 10 people enjoying the sunshine at the Rectory Cafe.
That's down from around 600 on a typical day this time of year.
Ken McAuliffe, general manager of the Ward's Island restaurant, doubts the business even hit seven per cent of what it brought in by the same time last year, amid flooding that has now covered at least 40 per cent of the islands' land mass and cut off the typical flow of mainland visitors.
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Thanks to that huge financial hit, the restaurant he's been co-operating for 14 years is closing down in October.
Built in 1948, the two-storey building was one of just two survivors of the city's demolition of island homes in the 1960s. Shutting the doors and selling the assets will be a "great disappointment," McAuliffe said.
But in an economy based on tourism, it's hard to stay afloat without the tourists, and other island businesses are also feeling the financial sting of the flooding.
'The bulk of our traffic is tourists'
"Islanders have been supporting us a lot, which is great, and city workers have been coming by… but the bulk of our traffic is tourists, and people can't come across," says Zorah Freeman-McIntyre, owner and chef at the Island Cafe on Ward's Island.
Thousands of sandbags have been placed on island shorelines, and five large industrial pumps are being used to remove surface pooling. But that hasn't been enough to keep the islands dry.
The wet start to the area's peak business season led to the city shutting down the Toronto Island Park to the general public, suspending regular ferry service and canceling all permits until the end of June.
On Monday afternoon, there were only half a dozen people enjoying the sunshine at the Island Cafe. "Normally, after the rain and the cold temperatures, the patio would probably be half-full," Freeman-McIntyre said.
The restaurant is only doing five to 10 per cent of the business they were doing the same time last year, he added.
And, he said, the six or seven water taxi operators are also feeling the financial sting. "They're also suffering from a lack of tourism on the island."
The Island Cafe could, potentially, follow in the footsteps of the Rectory Cafe and close its doors, Freeman-McIntyre said.
"It's going to be difficult for us to stay open with just island clientele," he said. "How long can we go? At this point, we're losing money... it's a losing battle."
With files from Shannon Martin