2017 was a record year, but not necessarily in a good way. Last year’s excessively rainy spring led the water levels of Lake Ontario to reach their highest ever recorded , even causing Toronto Island to close for most of the summer. Even though that was a record-setting year, flooding around Toronto’s waterfront is not uncommon. With the effects of climate-change presenting themselves more and more and with the Don River weaving alongside your daily commute, the risk for more frequent flooding is on the rise.
But, there is good news! After a decade of strategizing, the Flood Protection Plans for Toronto’s east waterfront are official and are set to begin this summer. Okay, so maybe that doesn’t sound all that exciting — but what if we mentioned that the plans include the creation of a new island, several new parks, and an entirely new neighbourhood? Better right?
Waterfront Toronto is the entity that oversees the West Don Lands area. They’ve been involved with projects like Corktown Commons, The Bentway, and Sugar Beach to name a few. The only thing that’s been holding them back from further developing the 290 hectares of unused land is the flood risk for the area.
Well they’ve finally come up with a plan — a $1.185 billion plan. They’re reconstructing the mouth of the Don River from it’s current artificial channel into a new river valley that will cut out a new Toronto island in the process.
Surrounding the new river will be parks and wetlands that can safely take on the overflow of water. Seems like a majestic solution, doesn’t it? Cut out an island and add some parks? Well it’s no surprise that this will be one of the city’s largest infrastructure projects. But it’s backed by all three levels of government and will set in motion the plans for Sidewalk Labs’ Quayside and East Harbour, where the possible future home of Amazon HQ2 could be. They’re essentially unlocking access to, what Kathleen Wynne claimed to be, North America’s largest stretch of undeveloped waterfront. 
The new Toronto island, Villiers Island, will be roughly 88 acres in size and will be an ecological masterpiece. With the priority focus of the entire project on flood plain protection, it’s the parks and wetlands that will be developed first. Over time they plan to develop the area into a complete community. Urban Strategies, an urban design firm, is overseeing the neighbourhood plan for the area and are the same firm affiliated with developing East Harbour, CIBC Square and the new Mirvish Village. Beyond the parks and public spaces, they plan to identify areas suitable for retail and office spaces, affordable housing and transportation routes, all with sustainability in mind.
The Globe and Mail has credited Waterfront Toronto for “shifting downtown Toronto’s centre of gravity to the east.” Since their inception in 2001, they’ve revitalized our city’s waterfront with project upon project. This latest undertaking is going to transform Toronto’s east end into the it spot. The truth is, we’ve already seen areas like Riverside and Leslieville growing in popularity and population. It’s inevitable that their eastern neighbourhoods are soon to follow suit.