Written by 08:57 World

Canada Debates the Future of Ontario Place, an Island Oasis

It was an unusually mild winter day in Toronto, but that did not make Lake Ontario’s icy waters any more inviting. Still, Sara Fruchtman, wearing a bathing suit and a bathing cap, plunged into the lake at Michael Hough Beach.

She was not alone. Seven other people were also there, some gathered around an anemic bonfire. All were part of an informal swimming group that congregated year round at Toronto’s only downtown beach.

But their icy ritual ended a few weeks later after a steel mesh construction fence cut off access to a pedestrian bridge leading to the island where the beach is. A sign said it was closed. The island, known as West Island, is one of two that make up Ontario Place, home to a former amusement park and exhibition pavilions.

The Province of Ontario, which owns Ontario Place, is turning West Island over to an Austrian spa developer under a 95-year lease to build what it describes as a large “well-being oasis” with hot and cold baths as well as other “water relaxation facilities.”

The project has prompted widespread criticism from local politicians and park users in Canada’s largest city, where little of the vast lake is easily accessible to the public from the heart of Toronto.

“I’m grieving,” Ms. Fruchtman said. “It feels like maybe some decision makers don’t see that people are really taking advantage of what we have here and that could be built up instead of built over. I don’t know why you would privatize something like this.”

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Last modified: 27 May 2024
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