Lack of working water fountains a symptom of Toronto's 'bad management,' advocate says

An urban planning adovcate says the lack of working water fountains in Toronto is a symptom of a gradual lowering of standards that, if left unchecked, will lead to inequitable spaces.

Only 60% of Toronto's 700 public water fountains were open during recent heat wave

The City of Toronto is being criticized by residents for not having all of its public water fountains open in time for the spring and summer season. (Getty Images)

Despite an early start to summer weather, the City of Toronto revealed it has some 245 water fountains that aren't turned on, something an urban planning advocate says spells a bigger problem for those who rely on public amenities.

Mayor John Tory revealed Tuesday only 60 per cent of the city's 700 public water fountains were up and running during recent record-breaking heat spells.

The city faced online backlash in a flood of comments and replies, particularly after it advised residents to stay hydrated using public fountains across Toronto when many weren't open.

Harbourfront resident Joy Van Kleef said she carries a water bottle with her every day when she takes her dog for a walk, a habit she picked up during the COVID-19 pandemic.

"The water supply in some of the parks that we used to rely on aren't operating," Van Kleef said.

"It means we have to always bring water with us, no matter how long or short we're going to be out."

Van Kleef says while inconvenient, she tries not to focus on the problem and instead enjoy the amenities that are available.

'It's really an equity issue'

But an urban planning advocate says the lack of running water fountains is a symptom of a gradual lowering of standards that, if left unchecked, will lead to inequitable spaces that are unbecoming of a city like Toronto.

"If we compare ourselves with cities with similar income and similar weather like Copenhagen or like Paris or Barcelona or Melbourne ... it does not happen in those cities," says Gil Penalosa, founder and CEO of non-profit 8 80 Cities, which aims to improve the quality of life for people in urban centres.

"We need to understand that management is not just picking up the garbage and cutting their grass, but it's about the uses and the activities."

In an email to CBC News, the city says factors like weather, water testing, and the age, size and location of the pipes, can make the process of getting water fountains working last anywhere from a few hours to a few days to complete.

Terence Hamilton is one of the Toronto residents who took to social media to express his displeasure with the city. He told CBC's Metro Morning Thursday that the people who suffer the most are families with children, people with disabilities and those experiencing homelessness.

"It really is not about me being thirsty on a hot day. It's really an equity issue," says Hamilton.

Terence Hamilton is a Toronto resident who has been tweeting about lack of accessible public amenities. Brad Ross, spokesperson for City of Toronto later joined the conversation

The problem of equitable public spaces popped up as recently as the summer of 2021, when residents spending time outside found the seasonal washrooms at many public parks were closed. Similarly, the city faced backlash last year for waiting until early June to start ramping up the opening of public water fountains.

Pelanosa says instead of aiming to turn on the taps and open washrooms on time every summer, the city should work to keep amenities open year-round to keep sustainability, equity and health at the forefront of public space management.

"[To] the people that do not have a cottage, that are not going to other places and that are staying, and many living in buildings and condos, their parks are the gardens of their homes," Pelanosa said.

The city said that as of Thursday, over 65 per cent of public water fountains are running, and all are expected to be available by mid-June.

All 142 seasonal washrooms in parks were opened by the Victoria Day weekend unless the washroom required more complex maintenance or repairs. There will also be up to 50 portable toilets with sinks rolled out to parks with encampments "as needed" throughout the summer. 

The city also confirmed that almost all of the city-owned spray and splash pads are open, except for a "handful" closed for capital construction or temporary mechanical issues. 

Toronto's splash and spray pads will operate daily from 9 a.m. to 8:30 p.m. until Sept. 18. (City of Toronto)

Toronto has 58 outdoor pools and a water park,10 of which will open early on June 18 on a partial schedule with remaining locations opening in late June. 

The city will also be activating its Heat Relief Network strategy to help residents stay safe during heat warnings. The network is made up of more than 300 cool spaces throughout the city, and includes shelters and 24-hour respite sites that are available to individuals experiencing homelessness. 


Vanessa Balintec is a reporter for CBC Toronto who likes writing stories about labour, equity and community. She previously worked for stations in New Brunswick and Kitchener-Waterloo. You can reach her at and on Twitter at @vanessabalintec.

With files from Metro Morning