After a glorious five-year run, Sunday picnics, drum circles and dancing may be things of the past at Cherry Beach.
As part of efforts to clean up the port lands, the city plans to clearcut 261 trees on parklands surrounding the beach to make way for the construction of two temporary sports fields. The project begins in November.
But Cherry Beach party organizers say the real cleanup began on Labour Day, when cops from nearby 51 Division, who used to tolerate the peaceful, all-day Promise party festivities, showed up in five cruisers, on horseback and with a paddy wagon, supposedly in response to noise complaints.
Where those complaints came from is not entirely clear. Staff Sergeant Frank Bergen did not respond to repeated calls from NOW.
One thing's for sure. The complaints aren't coming from Toronto Island residents, who've been at loggerheads with the nearby Docks over noise.
"If those parties have been going on for years, we really have to commend them for making an effort to contain their noise," says Toronto Island Noise Committee member Freya Godard. "We do occasionally hear noise from Cherry Beach, and it tends to go on all night long, but it doesn't happen often. People could learn something from the organizers."
But parks and bylaw enforcement supervisor Moses Cabral says numerous complaints have been made about open alcohol, drugs, people driving through parks and loud music. "It's an ongoing thing."
Party organizers Irving Shaw and David McLeod say the culprits are most likely Docks customers who sometimes hang out in the beach's parking lot.
"We wanted Cherry Beach to represent a place where people of all ages can congregate, listen to good music, dance and enjoy each other's company," says McLeod. "The Docks brought to light the fact that there were other parties on Cherry Beach, and maybe one of the higher-ups in the city said it has to stop."
Maybe indeed. According to McLeod, it was a bylaw officer who filed a noise complaint with police.
Karen Pitre, program manager with the Toronto Waterfront Revitalization Corporation (TWRC), says the city has been "trying to shut down the raves for a while now. The city's objective is to get them out of there."
The proposed playing fields, she says, "are a way to bring people down to the port lands and to the lake."
Local councillor Paula Fletcher, while calling recent police actions "heavy-handed," also warns that because of future waterfront development, such parties would create tension over the port lands, "and we have to be very sensitive to those things."
The $500 million fields will be built in Lake Ontario Park, south of Unwin and west of Regatta, on contaminated land, and will feature change rooms, several composting toilets and a 60-space parking lot.
But Friends of the Spit chair John Carley fears that putting in two sports fields conflicts with current zoning and continues the piecemeal planning of the port lands. The planned sports pavilion area, which includes change rooms, for example, is currently zoned as conservation land.
"We don't want a precedent set where conservation land is given up," says Carley. "No one's looking at the big picture."
The fields are being constructed in time for FIFA's (Federation Internationale de Football Association) under- 20 World Cup next summer. After the games, TWRC is looking at relocating the fields, which will be built using artificial turf, to the proposed 16.59-hectare Commissioners Park at Commissioners and Don Roadway, once residential and commercial development begins taking root in the area.
Councillor Fletcher says that while she's looking forward to more environmentally sound parklands, she's concerned that people who regularly use the area and have been there through thick and thin are being eased out. "Cherry Beach has a bit of a wild feel - you'd never think you were in downtown Toronto," she says. "If you're putting in fields, whatever goes around them has to have the same feel."
Meanwhile, the Cherry Beach Promise organizers are crossing fingers that their party will be given precedence as a cultural event, like Tam Tam Sundays in Montreal.
Says Shaw, "These are experiments that continue based on public support and positive results, testaments to world-class diversity and cultural enrichment.'