The ups and downs of life on the islands after a rain-soaked spring

An early spring storm kicked off a chaotic season on the Toronto islands. Residents and businesses are battling high water levels, while guests will find more lake than island in many areas.

All permits and programming are suspended until July 31, the city says

A rain-soaked spring fuelled flooding across the city's waterfront and low-lying areas. Long after the storms passed, high lake levels still threaten homes and businesses on the Toronto islands. And many of the city's summer staples like warm days on the beach, kids' camps and long weekend celebrations are going to be a little different this year.

The city gets soaked

In early May, a multi-day storm swooped in over the GTA. It's estimated between 70 and 90 mm of rain fell in less than 48 hours. 

(Lauren Pelley/CBC)

The rain threatened to shut down major arteries into the downtown core and flood basements across the waterfront and surrounding neighbourhoods. 

(Ali Chiasson/CBC)

Lawns become lakes on the islands

The potential for flooding is not new for residents of the Toronto islands. Many were hoping the high water levels were only a temporary inconvenience. Jimmy Jones told CBC Toronto he'd seen worse flooding in his decades on the islands.


But as it poured, it became clear things could get worse for island residents. An intense sandbagging effort began.

(Chris Glover/CBC)

Ferry service to the islands was restricted to locals, city crews and emergency personnel. Ships were kept on standby in case the particularly vulnerable Ward's Island would need to be evacuated overnight. It's home to about 700 residents.

(Lauren Pelley/CBC)

Storm's end brings little comfort 

Even when the storm ended, the lake loomed large. Island residents were told that despite the blue skies, Lake Ontario could still rise another 25 centimetres before it reached its peak. More than 15,000 sandbags went down in strategic zones. 

(Nathan Denette/Canadian Press)

Large parts of the islands were already a wetland, however.

Toronto Island Park is set to reopen on Monday after flooding and high water levels closed it to visitors in May. (City of Toronto)

Carp found a new hole to call home on a baseball diamond.

(Courtesy of Dominic Matte)

People tried to enjoy usual islands delights. But it was, uh, difficult. 

(Nathan Denette/Canadian Press)

Tough times for business

Businesses that rely on summer tourism, like the Island Cafe on Ward's Island, are wondering if there's any hope. Owner Peter Freeman told CBC Toronto that business fell of a cliff. The Rectory Cafe just down the road has already decided to close in the fall. 

(Nathan Denette/Canadian Press)

Summer programming chaos

Weddings, kids' camps and special events are summer staples on the islands. Not so much this year.

Permits were originally suspended until the end of June. That deadline was quickly amended to the end of July. Three hundred permits, affecting 90 groups and 350 would-be summer campers, have all been put on hold until water levels recede.

(Submitted by Anna Prodanou)

Summer still missing on many city beaches

After a delayed opening, all 11 of the city's beaches are open to the public. However, most don't have lifeguards and haven't been tended by city crews yet. E.coli may also be a lingering problem in some swimming zones. 

(Gary Morton/CBC)
(Nathan Denette/Canadian Press)

Making the best of it

It may not be ideal, but Torontonians are still trying to have fun. Pamela Fox said her walks along Cherry Beach have been "messy," but the dogs didn't seem to mind. 

(Adrian Cheung/CBC)


Lucas Powers

Senior Writer

Lucas Powers is a Toronto-based reporter and writer. He's reported for CBC News from across Canada. Have a story to tell? Email any time.