All-night raves threatening to trash sensitive habitat on Leslie Street Spit, advocates warn

Friends of the Spit say garbage, tiki torches and feces left behind by all-night partiers are putting the nature conservation area at risk.

Garbage, tiki torches, feces putting Tommy Thompson Park at risk, Friends of the Spit say

Partiers at Tommy Thompson park have left behind bottles and other trash, and have trampled vegetation. (Courtesy of Friends of the Spit)

During the daytime, the skies over Tommy Thompson Park on the Leslie Street Spit are filled with birds, and minks scurry across a rocky beach on Lake Ontario.

But since the summer began, partiers have been breaking into the conservation area to host all-night raves, leaving garbage, discarded tiki torches and even human feces behind, says a conservation group called Friends of The Spit. 

Garth Riley, the group's co-chair, says he knows people are just trying to have some outdoor fun amid pandemic restrictions. But he warns the noise and traffic could permanently damage the wildlife that depends on the man-made park, which is on a strip of reclaimed land that extends from the foot of Leslie Street about five kilometres into Lake Ontario.

"I understand that desire, but this is not the place," he said. "We're trying to keep it as pristine as possible right next to a city of four million people."

Friends of the Spit says over the August long weekend, partiers cut the lock on the gate to the spit, which is off-limits to private vehicles, and drove out to a secluded spot in the ecologically sensitive park.

The group, which has been advocating for spit since 1977, has filed complaints with police, the conservation authority and the city demanding authorities do more to keep partygoers out when the park is closed at night.

Members of Friends of the Spit say an old lock that kept the gate in place to prevent vehicles from entering Tommy Thompson park was cut to allow rave organizers drive onto the spit. As of Wednesday afternoon, a new one had been installed. (Darek Zdzienicki/CBC News)

The Toronto Police Service told CBC News their community response unit has been patrolling Tommy Thompson Park since May.

But the vegetation was trampled at the site of the most recent rave at the park, and beer cans and whiskey bottles were stashed away in the bushes nearby. Riley estimates there have been four parties since June. The raves often go all night, and members of the group report damage to the area the next morning. 

WATCH | Video of a rave at Tommy Thompson Park:

Rave at Tommy Thompson Park

2 years ago
Duration 0:24
A member of Friends of the Spit recorded this video of a party happening at Tommy Thompson park.

Riley says his group helps to clean up trash in the park. But the risk of fire from the torches and electric speakers is high, and could have a serious impact on the spit.

"If we got a bushfire here, it could be devastating and could destroy a lot of habitat," he said.

He also says the noise is harmful to the wildlife.

"It's an important bird area recognized globally, and has the largest population on the Great Lakes of cormorants," said Riley. "The nesting cormorants and great egrets and black-crowned night herons and terns could effectively be chased off of their nesting sites."

Tommy Thompson park is on the Leslie Street Spit, a man-made conservation area that sits just south of Toronto's downtown core. (Dexter McMillan/CBC News)

The spit is managed or owned by at least five different agencies: The Toronto Region Conservation Authority, PortsToronto, the Ministry of Natural Resources, the City of Toronto, and CreateTO. Friends of the Spit says it has petitioned several of these agencies for more enforcement but has heard nothing back.

"We'd like to see a greater presence here, if not to enforce, at least to act as a deterrent," Riley said.

Coun. Paula Fletcher, whose ward includes the spit, has written to the City of Toronto and the Toronto Region Conservation Authority calling for an enforcement plan. Part of the problem, according to Fletcher, is that more people are using parks now due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

"I've asked that the city reinforce that barrier on the road that the cars are using to go in illegally at night," she said in an interview.

"The use is so great now, but the enforcement and the response to issues there is still set from pre-pandemic times."

A bird stands just off the beach of Tommy Thompson park. The area is home to foxes, mink, and many species of birds. (Darek Zdzienicki/CBC News)


Dexter McMillan

Associate Producer, CBC News

Dexter McMillan is an Associate Producer and data journalist based in Toronto.


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