Toronto Island's 'romantic' but failing street lights to be replaced with modern LEDs

Long-time residents of Toronto Island will soon be saying goodbye to what they call an unheralded contributor to the island’s unique charm: the old-fashioned street lights that illuminate residential walkways.

Replacement lights will be more reliable, appropriately bright, Toronto Hydro says

The beer stein-style light fixtures on Toronto Island are due to be replaced starting this month. (Tony Farebrother)

Long-time residents of Toronto Island will soon be saying goodbye to what they call an unheralded contributor to the island's unique charm: the old-fashioned street lights that illuminate residential walkways.

"It's a much less obtrusive light than you see on city streets," said Freya Godard, a Ward's Island resident since 1969.

"So you have a much more, sort of, romantic feeling from the lighting."

The decades-old, beer stein-style lights have fallen into disrepair in recent years, and Toronto Hydro will begin replacing them later this month with modern LED fixtures at approximately 160 locations, primarily in the residential areas of Ward's Island and Algonquin Island.

The city-owned utility promises the replacement lights will be more reliable and energy efficient than the island's existing street lights, though residents say they would have liked to explore possible alternatives, such as preserving the existing lights or installing new ones of a more similar design.

"They want to replace everything and the only thing they're offering is what they call this cobra-style laneway light," said Tony Farebrother, chair of Toronto Island Community Association (TICA), and a resident of Algonquin Island for 25 years.

"The worry is that if we say no, we'll get nothing."

Toronto Hydro does not conduct community consultations before replacing street lights, though the utility says it did consider the "unique nature" of the Toronto Islands before selecting a replacement.

Residents say Toronto Hydro has not repaired any of the aging lights since 2017. (Freya Godard)

The new fixtures will use 14-watt LED bulbs with a soft, white colour temperature, which are typically installed by Toronto Hydro above small pathways. Street lights in Toronto have 55-watt bulbs. The new lights will also shine directly down, rather than in all directions.

"While the original light fixtures are no longer available and have reached end-of-life, the new lamps will provide safe and reliable lighting to the pathways near homes for all residents," said Toronto Hydro spokesperson Russell Baker in an email.

Godard is not a fan of the proposed replacements. 

"They're very utilitarian looking; they're not remotely like what we have now," she said.

Lights haven't been working for years

While island residents say the existing lights added an unmistakable charm to residential streets, many have grown increasingly frustrated with burnt-out light bulbs and darkened pathways.

The local residents' association said Toronto Hydro has not replaced bulbs or done repairs since at least 2017. Farebrother said some residents have unwisely started replacing light bulbs themselves during that time.

"This is crazy and dangerous, but there are a number of fixtures that are plain not working," he said.

Tony Farebrother, the chair of the Toronto Island Community Association, says residents have become increasingly frustrated with the malfunctioning lights, and many now support the replacement project. (Zoom)

Farebrother said the ongoing issues with the lights over the past several years have made some residents more willing to have them replaced.

"We need lights to work and to be safe, so I'd say the majority of the community are ready to accept because they want the lights working and fixed," he said.

"I get it, we're losing heritage," Farebrother added. "The city has a terrible history about protecting heritage."

City to lose more heritage lights in future

The office of Coun. Joe Cressy said it is lobbying Toronto Hydro to add a wider range of light fixtures to its portfolio to better preserving the unique character of certain Toronto neighbourhoods.

"Lighting is an important streetscape element, helping to establish identities of individual streets, neighbourhoods and districts," said Cressy in a statement. 

"I have been working with BIAs and other neighbourhood groups to have Toronto Hydro maintain a variety of street light options that enhance the character and Toronto's diverse districts as neighbourhoods and business destinations."

The heritage street lights on Palmerston Boulevard will also be replaced by modern light standards when they begin to fail. (Google Maps)

Toronto Hydro previously replaced the Victorian-style lights with more generic versions in the St. Lawrence neighbourhood. Cressy's office said the company will also replace the globe-style street lights on Palmerston Boulevard when they begin to fail.

Godard said the loss of distinctive street lighting will be a disservice to Toronto's history and efforts to preserve its architectural heritage.

"These have economic value, as well as the aesthetic and social value," said Godard.

"I can't think that other so-called world-class cities would have so little regard for the importance of street lights."


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