Lessons learned: Ward's Island residents get ready for possible flooding

There are massive sandbags lining the shore, the ground is cold and soaked, and there’s already five centimetres of water in his crawl space, but Mike French, who has lived there for a decade, doesn’t seem worried that Ward’s Island could flood all over again.

If Lake Ontario reaches 2017 levels, island residents say they're ready

Ward's Island resident Mike French stands beside the new concrete cistern that was installed after the 2017 flood. If it fills up this time, the blue pump behind it will shoot the water into the lake. (Turgut Yeter/CBC News )

There are massive sandbags lining the shore, the ground is cold and soaked, and there's already five centimetres of water in his crawl space, but Mike French doesn't seemed worried that Ward's Island could flood all over again.

"I would say we're cautious, we're ready this time," said French, who has lived on the island for about a decade.

"We're watching now where vulnerable points are and we've started sandbagging."

French is part of an emergency preparedness committee that monitors water levels and updates residents on flood mitigation efforts.

Island volunteers have filled dozens of sandbags. (Natalie Nanowski/CBC News )

The city is under a "shoreline hazard warning" that was issued earlier this month. Lake Ontario is approaching water levels that were last seen in 2017, when floodwaters inundated the islands for months and forced the closure of Toronto Island Park for much of the summer.

This time around, when residents heard about the increase, they took to sandbagging and the city brought in an inflatable dam.

New infrastructure put in

But French says the early response is only part of what's going to save people's homes. The other factor is the permanent changes that have been made to the island's infrastructure.

Holes were dug to install nine concrete cisterns. They're covered by grates and collect any excess surface water.

"We still might get some pooling in low points, but we now have these pumps where they can just drop in and shoot the water quickly out into the lake," said French.

Island won't close during flood

Water levels are sitting about 20 centimetres shy of what they were in 2017. Still, city spokesperson Brad Ross says it's unlikely they'll have to close the island if water levels surpass that.

"The other thing we did in the two years is rebuild the docks for the ferries," said Ross.

"Two years ago, the ferries couldn't go to the island, that's why we had to close the island. This time around, the ferry docks are able to accept the ferries. So we don't foresee having to close the island."

Another lesson learned is that the city, island residents, and the Toronto Region Conservation Authority are working together to deal with the situation.

Pumps have been brought in to deal with pooling water. (Natalie Nanowski/CBC News)

The TRCA helped with a risk assessment on the island right after the flooding and is now providing assistance with placing larger-size sandbags throughout the island.

Rehana Rajabali, senior manager for TRCA's flood risk management division, says they're monitoring the lake.

"The typical time for Lake Ontario levels to peak is late May or early June. Now, whether or not they get to those 2017 peaks or not really depends on the precipitation in the coming days. Not just in our watershed, but what's also happening in the Ottawa River basin," said Rajabali.

As for French, he says he's ready for the worst of it. Last time, he lost many family photos when his crawl space flooded. This time, he's already removed the boxes.  

About the Author

Natalie Nanowski

Reporter, CBC Toronto

Natalie is a storyteller who spent the last few years in Montreal covering everything from politics to corruption and student protests. Now that she’s back in her hometown of Toronto, she is eagerly rediscovering what makes this city tick, and has a personal interest in real estate and investigative journalism. When she’s not reporting you can find her at a yoga studio or exploring Queen St. Contact Natalie:


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