City Explores Increased Use of Small Watercraft
By Jim Sanderson
In the past several months, Canadians have become hungry for ways to get healthy exercise in safe environments, especially in areas where COVID-19 lockdowns have been severe. One activity that has surged along the shores of the GTA is the use of small vessels: kayaks, canoes, rowboats, and paddle boards, and this makes sense. There is obvious pleasure in getting out on the water in the sunshine and fresh air, and from a public health point of view, it’s easy to social distance from another boat!
An increase in this activity was identified earlier this year in a report from The City that predicted current numbers of about 87,000 unpowered craft, and 100,500 power boats in the GTA are expected to grow significantly through to 2025. The City is now considering ways to accommodate this trend. There are just a handful of public launch ramps that serve the area, and only one place that allows the storage of small boats, the venerable Silverbirch boathouse. In operation since 1932, this landmark beside the Balmy Beach Club has come under scrutiny recently because of its years-long waiting list, low membership costs, and the ability its users have enjoyed to grandfather slips to family members.
In an effort to improve this situation, Toronto Parks, Forestry and Recreation sent a letter in March to yacht clubs around the GTA, including the 4 clubs in Bluffer’s Park, enquiring if they might consider providing small craft storage and waterfront access to the general public, for a fee, of course. The yacht club members and officers I have spoken to about this have voiced reservations. Some clubs, like Scarborough Bluffs Sailing Club, already have canoe and kayak racks and ready membership options for people wishing to get out on the water in small craft. Farther west, Ashbridge’s Bay Yacht club is offering a small craft membership option this year. To set up separate billing and monitoring systems so the public can store and retrieve small boats and paddleboards would stress club resources that are already thin in the COVID-19 era.
Other concerns include safety and security. Excursions onto Lake Ontario in small craft can be hazardous and even life threatening any time the waves are high, and especially in May and June when the sun is hot, but the water is still dangerously cold. All in all, it seems the boating community share the feelings of Toronto Parks and City Hall, and other Toronto residents, that time on the water in any kind of vessel is time well spent – just as long as it is safe. Exactly how increases in this pastime will be accommodated, however, remain to be seen.
~ Jim Sanderson is a local resident, and the author of Toronto Island Summers, and Life in Balmy Beach.