By Mark Mattson, President, Swim Drink Fish Canada
When we started Lake Ontario Waterkeeper in 2001 we had a simple approach to going after polluters: investigate the problem, find the polluter and make the government enforce the laws. Even though our country and province have some of the best environmental regulations they were being ignored and often went unenforced.
Beaches were polluted, fish were rare and the waterfront was mostly closed off to the public. This disconnection between people and water meant most people didn’t seem to care about the issues we were fighting for.
This has all changed over last 15 years. This change has been so rapid that even recent projects like the Ontario Place Park and Scarborough Waterfront Project (SWP) seem dated; missing out on great opportunities to fulfill the public’s increasing desire to experience the lake.
The idea of getting people to the water by taking downs fences and creating walking paths and biking trails is a great one. And over the last 15 years group like Waterfront Trail have followed it to great success. Waterkeeper too has witnessed the impact of getting people to the water: more beaches, cleaner beaches, and a greater understanding of the water in our communities.
The SWP and Ontario Place Park get that important value -- but they are missing out on greater benefits and failing to meet the public’s higher expectations.
Once people get to water -- they all naturally want to get in it or go out on it. That is the greatest public asset of all, for once the public start to touch the water their desire for clean, safe water creates the political will to clean up our lakes. So why then do Toronto’s new developments seem to neglect the importance of water access?
We hope what’s happening in Kingston changes all that. The Breakwater Park redevelopment is part of a comprehensive plan to promote water access for swimmers and other recreational water users. As a result of this plan, the city has already committed to real time water monitoring and the restoration of fish habitat.
This plan attracted the support of other levels of government as well as the private support of The W. Garfield Weston Foundation who has worked with Swim Drink Fish Canada to provide half of a million dollars to Kingston’s Breakwater Park project. With their help, the redevelopment will be completed a full year ahead of schedule.
Probably the most revolutionary part of this development is the pier. Once a dock belonging to the Public Utilities Commission, it will now be transformed into Canada’s first urban deep water swimming access point.
Kingston named this one of a kind development after Lake Ontario’s great friend and advocate Gord Downie. The Gord Edgar Downie Pier is the future of urban water access. Now Toronto and other Great Lake cities need to take note and update their expectations when it comes to waterfront restoration.