The Globe and Mail hosts Daniel Rotsztain’s article looking at how the Toronto Islands, particularly in the area of Gibraltar Point, is facing an existential crisis due to the threat of erosion.
Cradling the city’s harbour like an outstretched hand, the Toronto Islands are more than a place to escape the city – they are the very reason the city exists at all.
Always a gathering place for First Nations, John Graves Simcoe, the first lieutenant-governor of Canada, also recognized the benefits of a protected bay. He laid Toronto’s nascent grid in a nook where the islands – then a peninsula – connected to the mainland in a vast marsh just east of the Don River.
The settlement was safeguarded with a garrison (Fort York) at the narrow opening of the bay to the west and a stone lighthouse at the peninsula’s tip. As tensions simmered between Upper Canada and the United States, Simcoe named the point Gibraltar to evoke the protective force of the massive rock that guards the comings and goings from the Mediterranean Sea between Europe and Africa.
But Toronto’s Gibraltar is a far cry from its namesake monolith. The peninsula-cum-island, created from currents of sediment deposited in the lake from the Scarborough Bluffs and Don River, was – until Depression-era infill projects – a constantly shifting sandbar, changing shape and form with each season and storm.
Historic manipulation of Toronto’s dynamic coastline has put the islands’ beaches at risk of being washed away. Stabilization of the Scarborough Bluffs, cliffs created by erosion, and the filling in of marshes to create the Port Lands have cut the islands off from their replenishing sources of sediment. And the construction of the Leslie Street Spit has blocked what little sediment does end up in the lake. They are part of years of major waterfront projects done before the words “environmental assessment” entered the bureaucratic vocabulary.
“And if no action is taken, Gibraltar Point could sever into two within 20 years” says Ethan Griesbach, project manager at Toronto and Region Conservation Authority (TRCA).