For thousands of years, the Toronto Islands have been a place for healing and ceremony for the Mississaugas of the Credit First Nation and other diverse Indigenous communities. Today, it is one of Toronto’s signature parks and acts as an oasis for Torontonians from many walks of life. However, in recent years, the park has faced pressures, including increased demand, aging infrastructure and flooding.
The Toronto Island Park Master Plan will address these issues and ensure the park can be a cherished gathering place for generations to come. It will be a long-term planning document that is being co-created with Indigenous rights holders, local communities, and the public through a gradual process of many engagement opportunities from 2021 to 2024. To learn more about the community engagement process and upcoming opportunities, visit Toronto Island Park Master Plan: Community Engagement.
The Master Plan is designed to be an iterative and responsive process. It will outline a vision, values, guiding principles and big ideas to guide change and investment in Toronto Island Park over many years.
A Master Plan is a long-term planning document that acts as a blueprint to guide future decision-making around improvements, programming and management of a park. It influences decision-making, operations and future park improvements over many years.
There are three key components that make up the Master Plan:
The Toronto Island Park Master Plan will:
As an outcome of Community Engagement Phase 2 of the Master Plan, six lenses were developed to group the public’s insights and provide an organizing framework for the Draft Master Plan. As the Master Plan moves toward finalization, the lenses have been reframed the following goals:
Mnisiing, the Ojibwe name referring to Toronto Island, has long been integral to Indigenous practices, life, and ceremony. Through ongoing work with Indigenous communities, spaces for ceremony, teaching and learning traditional practices, and sharing the rich and ongoing stories of this place and all its inhabitants will be identified. Through honouring the deep and uninterrupted legacy of Indigenous peoples within these lands and waters an Indigenous place will be revealed for all who set foot on the Island.
At 242 hectares (598 acres), the Island is one of the largest parks in Toronto with many diverse features that support a wide variety of park experiences for visitors. Through improvements to the ferry service, introduction of larger vessels, enhancements at all landings and investment in making getting around more accessible and comfortable for all visitors, the park will be more inviting and enjoyable.
The Toronto Islands are an ever-changing place. Formed over centuries, today’s park supports diverse ecologies and works as an important part of several regional and local natural systems. Putting the needs of nature first in decision-making processes will ensure the park remains a place that supports the city and larger region for generations to come.
Toronto Island Park offers a visitor experience unlike any other with spaces that have been shaped by many hands over time. Improving communication, simplifying how things are done, enhancing what already exists, and working with partners to introduce different ways to experience the park year-round will help protect the most vulnerable spaces while creating new opportunities to enjoy the park.
Toronto Island Park, and more specifically Hanlan’s Point, has long been a safe space for the 2SLGBTQ+ community in Toronto and beyond to freely express themselves. Continued support for the community to share and celebrate the history, legacy and significance of this place will promote awareness and safety in this beloved space.
The drivers of change are the challenges and opportunities that are driving the need to develop a Master Plan and improve Toronto Island Park. The following challenges and opportunities have been identified:
Since time immemorial, the Island has been a place of escape, respite and healing. It is also a meeting place for family and friends that welcomes a wide range of visitors including Indigenous communities, newcomers and 2SLGBTQ+. Toronto Island Park is a one-of-a-kind place and yet its natural character, rich and storied past and unique identity are largely unknown.
The Island is an important Indigenous place and has been for millennia. For the Michi Saagiig, it was simply known as Mnisiing, meaning “on the islands.” Later, they were collectively known as Aiionwatha or Hiawatha’s Island. It has also been long considered as a meeting place and a place of healing and ceremony for Indigenous people. This rich history and living culture is not reflected in Toronto Island Park as it exists today.
The Island is a place rich in cultural and natural heritage. It includes several significant ecosystems that contribute not only to local ecological processes, health and function, but also form part of larger important regional systems, including being a part of migratory bird flyways. The diverse and complex history of human use and interaction within the Island’s natural and built spaces and its value as a refuge and escape for many underserved communities are also unshared are not well known. Many people are unaware of the origins of the Island’s natural landform and significance as a defining feature for the inner harbour and the role this played in the establishment of Toronto as a settlement, and the city that we know today.
Toronto Island is a special place that offers different experiences. People come to Toronto Island for many different reasons, for example: hiking, biking, picnicking, spending time at Centreville, participating in events and celebrations, boating, paddling the internal waterways or spending a lazy afternoon at the beach. Many people simply visit to escape the city, recharge and connect with nature. The visitor experience has untapped potential and room for improvement.
The Toronto Island is a dynamic place with many opportunities for small and large businesses to provide diverse and high-quality visitor experiences. These opportunities should be better coordinated island-wide to ensure Toronto Island Park reaches its full potential. Currently, there are gaps in commercial offerings, and it is difficult for small and diverse suppliers to enter the Island’s market. These challenges also extend to customer service, commercial offerings, improving the operating environment and trying to reduce or remove some of the logistical challenges of running an on-island business. Current business operations on the Island need to be examined to ensure the City is doing all that it can to facilitate high-quality and diverse service offerings which respond to the needs of visitors during all seasons.
Toronto Island should be a place for everyone, where there are limited or no obstacles or barriers when travelling to and getting around the Island. This includes accessing dock areas, ferries, buildings, and park amenities, as well as the Island attractions, beaches (including the water) and the many natural experiences the Islands have to offer.
The Toronto Islands originated as a sandbar and has evolved over time into the islands that make up the park we are familiar with today. The landform is vulnerable to the whims of mother-nature and the Island’s environment is constantly changing which presents ongoing operational, service delivery and management challenges that require continued investment.
Much of the Island’s infrastructure was installed decades ago and is aging and in various states of repair. In addition, environmental impacts from high lake effect, flooding and erosion have contributed to the decline of Island infrastructure. Despite ongoing capital investments and improvements to ensure the safety of the public and continued use of the park facilities and amenities, additional investments and updates are required. To ensure public safety and mitigate the environmental impacts of flooding and erosion, a more strategic plan for coordinating these improvements is needed. This will help to ensure that the future function and sustainability of the park is maintained for future generations.
The population of downtown Toronto is growing at a pace that far exceeds the population growth for the city, with an estimated 10,000 residents added each year. According to the City’s new TOcore Downtown Secondary Plan, downtown could nearly double in size by 2041, and reach a population of 475,000. The TOcore Parks and Public Realm Plan has also identified that downtown Toronto is highly parkland deficient and has linked population growth with increased demand and use of parks. In response, the City’s Parkland Strategy has identified Guiding Principles to Expand, Improve, Connect and be more inclusive with our park system to respond to the city’s growth and to ensure our parks become more accessible, functional, connected and resilient. Toronto Island Park can help to achieve these goals for the benefit of the downtown core and the city overall.
The vision identifies the aspirations and speaks to the end goals of the Master Plan. It looks to the past for context and understanding, identifies a path forward, and sits within the shared values of the project to reveal the outcomes and realization of this Master Plan.
As Toronto continues to grow and evolve, Toronto Island Park will be a place where dynamic natural environments and sensitive habitats are protected and supported through stewardship, education, and management that prioritizes ecological integrity and sustainability. It will be a safe place for community, where all are welcome and equitable access is central to the experience of the park for all living beings. It will be a place to seek refuge from urban life and stresses and experience the healing and restorative powers of being immersed within nature. It will be a park for generations to enjoy and experience through thoughtful management and understanding of the needs of all living beings that call this place home.
Toronto Island Park will be a place that embraces the sovereignty of the land, water and sky within the park as living beings and actively seeks to share the Indigenous significance through placekeeping, place-making, and place-revealing. It will be a place where diversity is celebrated and supported through sharing the identity, character, and legacy of the islands by uplifting and sharing different perspectives and revealing all the stories of the park, new and old. It will be a place of belonging that is inclusive and celebratory of Indigenous communities, Black communities, People of Colour, 2SLGBTQ+, women and gender non-conforming people, disabled people, children and youth, seniors, people experiencing poverty and all equity-deserving communities.
Toronto Island Park will be a place that embraces the wonder and joy of the ever-changing landscape through a new understanding of play for all ages and abilities—over time and through all seasons. It will deliver experiences that are special to this place by acknowledging the uniqueness and dynamic character of the islands—past, present, and future. It will promote sharing, learning, and teaching through land-based practices, partnerships with diverse and under-represented voices, and programming that reflects the variety of lived experiences and worldviews that make up Toronto. It will ensure equitable access through accessible and affordable spaces, experiences, and connections that invite all to visit, experience and explore the natural and man-made wonders the park has to offer.
Values are fundamental requirements for guiding the Master Plan. They are overarching ideals that are universally true, regardless of context or specific conditions. The values outlined here form the basis of the vision and guiding principles in support of the overall Master Plan. They also apply beyond the limits of this study and align with the City’s corporate and divisional strategic initiatives overall. Quite simply, the Toronto Island Park Master Plan must embody all these values.
Through engagement and collaboration with rights holders, City staff, community representatives, and the public, the following values were developed to guide the Master Plan process and recommendations.
Respect for both people and nature by:
Diversity of cultures, practices and people as well as biodiversity by:
Balance between active and passive, local and visitor, long-term and short-lived by:
Accountability in process, practice and principles by:
Guiding principles are the rules for how the Master Plan should meet the objectives of the project and respond to the drivers identified at the outset of this study. These guiding principles are specific to the approach for Toronto Island Park and have been informed through the public engagement process.
The Park should: