Flooding on Toronto Islands means dragon boat race festival in limbo

Organizers of the Living Realty Toronto International Dragon Boat Race Festival say they will decide with city staff this Thursday whether the event can proceed despite flooding on Toronto Islands.

Water levels on Lake Ontario are expected to reach a peak this week. City crews have closed several areas of Toronto Island Park due to flooding from Lake Ontario as water levels rise.

City staff are working with event organizers to relocate events that were supposed to take place in areas now closed to the public.

The city says that 11 special event permits have been affected by the flooding, and that means events have been relocated, rescheduled or cancelled, and 45 picnic permits have been cancelled or relocated. The city says Toronto Island Park itself, with the exception of several areas, remains open.

Aaron Soroka, chief operating officer of GWN Dragon Boat, an event management company based in Toronto, said the festival, scheduled for June 15 and 16, is expected to draw about 4,000 athletes and thousands of spectators. The event, in its 31st year, is being organized by the Toronto Chinese Business Association and GWN Dragon Boat.

Organizers ‘unsure of the status’ of event

“Right now, we’re unsure of the status of the event. We’re meeting with the city on Thursday to go over the logistics and to see if it’s possible to run the event.”

Soroka, who received a letter from the city about events at risk due to flooding on Toronto Islands, said his staff visited the site last Friday. He said Centre Island itself is currently above water.

“We see an opportunity to run the event,” he said. “Racing itself will be exceptional. The deeper water will actually pay dividends for the paddlers and make the racing fairer,” he said.

He said the company is still hopeful that the event will proceed and it doesn’t have a Plan B. But an event the size of the festival needs dry land, protected water, places for spectators, room for food stalls, portable washrooms and power, he noted.

“Certain parts of the island really are challenging. They’re under water. But some areas, such as Centreville and Centre Island, are in great shape. City staff have been working hard but there’s just too much water in those areas,” Soroka said.

“Hopefully, the water starts to go down. We need it to go down a little bit.”

Soroka said there is an economic impact to the city when events are cancelled or postponed.

The Run Like a Diva Half Marathon and 5K, a female-focused running event in support of Rethink Breast Cancer, which was scheduled for this Sunday on Toronto Islands, for example, has been postponed until Sept. 22.

About 1,800 people from North America and overseas were expected to take part.

Water levels have surpassed record peak of 2017

Water levels on Lake Ontario reached an average of 75.91 metres above sea level on Tuesday, surpassing the record peak of 75.88 metres above sea level reached in 2017, according to Rehana Rajabali, senior manager of flood risk management for the Toronto and Region Conservation Authority.

Rajabali said the average water level on Saturday, at 75.94 metres above sea level, was actually higher than on Tuesday.

“The reason levels reported lower today is that there were winds pushing the water to the south side of Lake Ontario the past two days. Tomorrow morning’s average will likely be a few centimetres higher now that the winds have shifted,” Rajabali said on Tuesday.

“The peak is expected within this week.”

The city said the following locations affected by flooding are currently closed:

  • Olympic Island: closed until Sept 1, 2019 at the earliest.
  • Snake Island: closed until July 1, 2019.
  • Seven areas of Toronto Island Park.
  • Hanlan’s Point: closed until July 1, 2019.
  • Roads will be closed until Aug 1, 2019.

City staff will reassess water levels and closures on July 1. If more events need to be relocated, staff will let organizers know, the city said in a release on Tuesday.

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