Toronto Island residents working to fend off flooding

Toronto Island residents working to fend off flooding

Commodore Genia Vanderkruk has traded her yacht club blue and whites for yellow rain gear and is surveying the slate grey encroaching waters of Toronto’s inner harbour.

For now, the orange and white sandbags circling the Queen City Yacht Club clubhouse on Algonquin Island along with the deep channels cut in the grass and strategically placed pumps have kept floodwaters at bay.

“Two years ago we kinda thought well this will be a once every 20-year thing, so yeah we should make plans but we’ve got lots of time,’ said Vanderkruk, referring to rising waters in 2017 that left vast sections of the islands bogged and submerged for most of the summer.

“This year we have come to realize we don’t actually have a lot of time and we really just need to get on it and spend the money and do what we need to do, to protect a heritage building, to protect our club,” Vanderkruk said during a mid-morning tour of the club’s property on Saturday, while a crew of people filled and moved sandbags and shored up every possible line of defence.

The forecast had called for heavy rains and while there was some precipitation during the late morning, the skies were clear by early Saturday afternoon.

Island residents have been working to fend off the worst since rough waters breached a sandbag barrier Thursday night on Ward’s Island. Lake water rushed in and flooded low areas on several parts of the island. Algonquin Island is connected to Ward’s Island by bridge.

This is “very much related to climate-change,” Mayor John Tory said Friday during a visit to Ward’s Island. He added that city staff will have to sit down with residents and businesses to work out a long-term plan to deal with that reality.

Members of the Queen City Yacht Club, which is mainly run by volunteers, have been actively packing and placing sandbags around the property, said Vanderkruk. They’ve also spread out pumps to divert water from the building and protect their back neighbours, whose houses look over the marine railway used to move boats from their winter cradles and into the water.

“We have got a lot of members here who love this place,” said Vanderkruk, who is in her first year in the elected position. “All the work that happens here with things like sandbagging, launching or hauling boats, members do that ourselves.”

The city has provided “really good support” in terms of providing bags and sand because that is what they really need right now, Vanderkruk said. Going forward, she said, the club might seek advice on where to sink permanent sump pumps or build a berm to prevent water flow on the property.

While the rising water level presented an obvious risk to island structures, it also provided an opportunity for residents to experience how the community works together in crisis and allowed the kids to just explore.

Stepsisters Ula, 11, and Fiona, 12, used the sandbags on Ward’s Island to practice their balance during a walk to a Toronto Public Library Bookmobile. Their parents requested that their last names not be used.

When asked to describe the ups and downs of the flooding, Fiona, who spends part of the year on the island, said the water can be fun to play in and generally it has slowed things down and moving around takes longer.

“I am used to living in a neighbourhood that is far away from the water so I don’t really have to worry about it,” she said. “Then I come here and its flooding. And I have to take a boat every day to get to school.”

Both spoke about how island residents, even former ones, have been pitching in and putting up sandbags.

Ula, who lives on the island full-time, agreed it is fun to play in the water and also took a moment to points out changes she has observed with local wildlife, with a bit of concern, as well as the consequences that come with improper disposal of trash.

“This time around you can see a lot of carp and beavers. Recently I have seen a lot of beavers. The garbage comes up which is not too good,” she said.

“It would be amazing if other people in Toronto would come and pitch in with this struggle on the island.”

With files from Gilbert Ngabo

Emily Mathieu is a Toronto-based reporter covering affordable and precarious housing. Follow her on Twitter: @emathieustar

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