Public not aware Ward's Island still open despite flood fears, business owners say
Restaurant co-owner says over half the staff has been laid off as patron confusion persists
Some business owners on Toronto's Ward's Island are saying the public aren't aware that the island is still open for business despite the city closing off access to much of Toronto Island Park due to flooding fears. And it's impacting their bottom line.
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Longtime resident Susan Roy co-founded Walk Ward's Island and planned to give tours.
"This was going to be our inaugural year," Roy told CBC Toronto. "But then it rained. We basically got flooded out."
Due to the rain and rising water levels, the city introduced efforts to mitigate the potential impact of flooding on Toronto Island.
Measures included cancelling city-run recreation programs, closing ferry services to Centre Island and Hanlan's Point docks, and closing Toronto Island Park.
Wynna Brown, a spokesperson for the city, told CBC Toronto that Toronto Island Park on Centre Island is closed and ferry services are restricted to residents and essential personnel only until the water level subsides more than 30 centimetres. Brown said there is "still quite a ways to go" until that target is met.
As for the businesses, Brown said she understands this situation is unprecedented, and as such the city is considering a report at council this week that looks into the impact this has had financially.
The only advice Brown offers to the seasonal businesses affected by the flooding is to have business continuity plans and insurance in place.
Roy says ferry service to Ward's Island is still available, provided you are visiting a resident, or if you have an engagement on the island, such as a reservation at a restaurant.
However, Peter Freeman, who runs the Island Cafe with his wife and son, told CBC Toronto they "laid off more than half the staff" because potential patrons are not aware that they can still visit with a reservation.
"Definitely, the first question when the phone rings is, 'Are you open?'" said Freeman. "We did have a situation where someone said, 'Hey, we were told that no one was open on the island, there was no businesses open.'"
Freeman said the restaurant has a capacity of 75 to 80 people, and that the establishment would likely be full if more people knew they were still open.
Both Freeman and Roy believe the city needs to do more to make the public more aware that Ward's Island is still open for business.
Roy believes the city's reticence to fully re-open the island or encourage visitors comes from a place of caution.
"I have observed, when I'm going through the ferry docks myself in the city, some people do get turned away," said Roy, who still plans to start offering tours starting July 8, according to the tour's Facebook page.
"There's still a lot of water in parts of the park," she said. "And I think the city is probably ... concerned about liability around that."
Freeman believes some staff are confusing Ward's Island with Centre Island, which is closed. Signs at the ferry docks also say "Toronto Island is closed," which can can further deter visitors.
Still, Roy thinks the city should "make it very clear that if you have a particular event to go to ... you can come to the island."
"I think that's probably all they can do," she said.
With files from Nick Boisvert