Pedestrian footbridge to the Toronto Islands an ongoing debate amongst residents

The Toronto Islands are the largest green space available for many downtown dwellers, but instead of using the ferry, what if one could walk or bike over? The Green Line's Anita Li talks to area residents about the idea.

By Mahdis Habibinia, Aloysius Wong and Anita Li of The Green Line

The Toronto Islands are the largest green space available for many downtown dwellers, but instead of using the ferry to travel to the islands, what if one could walk or bike over?

That is the idea behind a proposed pedestrian lift bridge about 250 metres long that would stretch from the Port of Toronto to Ward’s Island.

Local resident April Engelberg has been an advocate for the footbridge, saying it would give Torontonians free access to the islands and another option for those who live on the Islands.

“This is a really underutilized space. Like you can look around, it’s cement trucks, but this space is very valuable. We’re just a short walk from the downtown core,” said Engelberg, about where the bridge would start on the Port of Toronto.

The Toronto Islands are part of the neighbourhood of St. Lawrence-East Bayfront-The Islands, part of one of the fastest growing areas of Toronto. But the majority of residents don’t have their own backyards.

“I think especially living downtown, the lifestyle can feel very isolated, very much so. Living in larger high-rise buildings, especially seeing more of those downtown,” said another resident Nadia Gilani. “Really having that ability to go out outside and spend some more time in the sun and talk to people is just really great for everyone’s mental health.”

The idea of erecting a bridge to the islands has been floated around before. Some people loved the proposal, some hated it and others like Tony Farebrother, chair of the Toronto Island Community Association, are open to the idea with caveats.

““We’re glad to share the islands, if you are in our area, with [other] people because it is a special place, it is kind of a magical place,” said Farebrother.

But he adds the islands are a “fairly fragile place,” and Farebrother is concerned the needs of the islands will be ignored if more people have access.

“People shouldn’t be coming to drink and party or whatever, like no care for the environment. It’s not something that [the islands] can easily recover from that type of damage.”

Paula Fletcher, city councillor for Toronto-Danforth where the bridge would begin, said she believes the idea is forward-looking.

But she doesn’t think the bridge can be built right now, while resources are focused on revitalizing the Port Lands and the islands.

“All of our discussions have been really focused on getting this built, getting the river built, getting the islands built, getting the park built. So the footbridge idea is not front and center for any thinking on the waterfront at the moment,” said Fletcher.

Many Torontonians living downtown agree on one thing, though. While most people appreciate green spaces — including the islands — not everyone can easily access them.

“I think it’s well recognized that there is a lack of green space. And that especially in the group in the east downtown,” said Farebrother.

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