This story is sponsored by the City of Toronto.
Thousands of Torontonians from all walks of life are sharing their vision for the future of Toronto Island Park, the city’s largest signature park. It’s a part of the City of Toronto’s 18-month process to cocreate the Toronto Island Plan Master Plan and shape the future of this significant waterfront destination with those who use it or hope to.
Toronto Island Park is much more than amusement rides, swimming beaches and a hedge maze. It’s a popular year-round destination for Torontonians and tourists alike looking to escape the hustle and bustle of the city, unplug and relax while connecting with friends or family. All that the beloved island has to offer is only a 13-minute ferry ride across the harbour from downtown Toronto.
However, most visitors are unaware that the island boasts a rich and fascinating history, and is especially significant to local Indigenous people.
For the Michi Saagiig Anishinaabeg (the Mississaugas, signatory to the 1805 Treaty No. 13), the clusters of islands were once named Mnisiing, meaning “on the islands.” Mnisiing was considered a place of healing and the Mississaugas brought their sick there to recuperate. It was also a special place for ceremony, including both childbirth and burials. Toronto acquired the Islands from the Mississaugas through the 1805 treaty. Later, the islands were collectively known as Aiionwatha or Hiawatha’s Island. Today, they are known simply as the Toronto Islands but their restorative and ceremonial importance continues.
“The Toronto Islands are really special to our people and when people go there, they can feel that specialness,” says Valarie King, Mississaugas of the Credit First Nation Elder and knowledge holder. “They can feel that energy of that Island, of what we feel when we go there, and what our blood memory remembers of what happened when we would gather there and talk amongst the people and share our medicines and our teachings and our stories and our songs and our food.”
“We hope the city focuses on the Indigenous concept of placemaking and placekeeping within this Toronto Island Park Master Plan,” adds councillor Cathie Jamieson from the Mississaugas of the Credit First Nation. “And that this new narrative may correct history and speak that truth about First Nations and our role in the island’s establishment, prior to the City of Toronto but, as well, what does that mean as we combine those narratives together?”
Indigenous placekeeping is an approach to design based on land stewardship. It is centered on recognizing the rights of the landscape as a living being first and considering our responsibilities as humans to the land now and into the future. It asks us to think beyond our own immediate benefit and defines a mutually beneficial relationship between all living things. The City is working closely with First Nations, Métis, Inuit and urban Indigenous peoples to incorporate this thinking into the Toronto Island Master Plan, as well as to explore and understand how Toronto Island Park can continue to feel like an Indigenous place, something that will be explored at an upcoming virtual forum.
Over the years, the park has also become significant to other communities within Toronto, including the LGBTQ2S+ communities, Black communities, newcomers, seniors and people living with disabilities. Engagement on this project is intended to be extensive and equitable so that the diverse needs and perspectives of these communities are captured in the final plan. The City is also working closely with waterfront communities, businesses and park users from all walks of life to better understand how Toronto Island Park is important to them and how they hope to experience it in the future.
In this way, the Master Plan will ensure that Toronto Island Park is serving the public in the best way possible. This includes considering ways to improve the visitor experience, access and information sharing, exploring new programming and park amenities and celebrating, protecting and enhancing the natural and cultural heritage that make the island park unique.
The three phases of public engagement will be integral to the development of the Master Plan and provide Torontonians with an unprecedented opportunity to help shape the future of one of Toronto’s most important and historic parks.
The first phase, “Towards a Vision,” is well underway and will run until the end of April. Within this phase, the project team has already worked with the public and Indigenous rightsholders to develop a series of “Drivers of Change”–the challenges and opportunities driving the need for a new Master Plan. Through the rest of this phase, the City will build on the Drivers of Change to codevelop a vision with Torontonians that describes what Toronto Island Park will become in the short and long-term future.
Online surveys, digital workshops, interactive maps and online forums are just some of the ways that the City is collecting valuable insights and suggestions from the public. Two additional phases of engagement will follow, building on the work from the first phase to develop ideas and actions that will in turn shape future concepts and final plans for Toronto Island Park.
In summer 2022, when the Master Plan is complete, the City hopes Torontonians and Indigenous people will see themselves reflected and will know their ideas were valued and incorporated. Most importantly, the City hopes that the Plan and the process to develop it will help Torontonians to understand just how special the Island is and inspire them to think of themselves as its stewards and caretakers so that it can remain a special place for many generations to come.
Ensure your ideas become a part of this plan. Visit toronto.ca/islandmasterplan to complete the online survey, participate in the interactive map activity and sign up to participate in the April 7 Virtual Visioning Workshop. Check the website regularly for updates on the many opportunities to help create the Toronto Island Park Master Plan.