The 11-metre dragon boats are long gone, their drumbeats faded, and the predicted audience of 100,000 for the boat race at Marilyn Bell Park turned out to be a few thousand of the faithful.
What remains is a glut of garbage, stretches of dead grass and a $23 million stone wall. What's left for the community now that the race is over? And how did Parkdale get stuck with a watercourse that's only half-finished?
Residents have begun referring to the breakwater that dominates the course as Parkdale's Berlin Wall. Just another case of political interests overriding the wishes of the local waterfront community? It's hard not to agree.
Mike Kerkman, VP of Great White North, the organization that helped bring the dragon boat races to T.O., says more money will have to be sunk into the project to make the facility usable for future races.
"[The city] didn't want to spend the extra money and commit to a full dredging of the shoreline," says Kerkman. "The races take place so far from the shore because the course is not deep enough at the shoreline."
Kristin Jenkins, VP of communications for the Toronto Waterfront Revitalization Corporation, acknowledges that the watercourse is incomplete but stresses that "it can be extended as the financial resources become available."
Kris Burley of the International Dragon Boat Federation media team assures me that the races are a great boon to the area, one that will "open up Toronto to sport tourism."
He says the course would "remain a legacy to all water sports, be they canoers or rowers."
So far, residents and local retailers have yet to see the benefits. Devin Horne of the Parkdale Business Improvement Association says, "It would have been nice if local businesses had had the opportunity to get involved." But it was corporate sponsors like Coca-Cola and Pizza Pizza that fed and watered the paddlers.
Others, like local Argonaut Rowing Club member Robert Blunt, doubts the course can be used for anything but the once-a-year races. "It's too rough, open and windy to be of any use whatsoever to canoers, rowers or paddlers," he says,
Although the project went through an environmental assessment, David White of the Parkdale-High Park Residents Waterfront Group continues to have concerns about water circulation, the effects on aquatic habitat and on-again, off-again plans to re-naturalize the shoreline of Marilyn Bell Park.
The group thought it had assurances from the Toronto and Region Conservation Authority that re-naturalization of the park was in the offing, but the TRCA's waterfront specialist, Nancy Gaffney, now calls Marilyn Bell Park "an urban park" and says, "Shoreline naturalization is not appropriate for that location."
There is, of course, the question of whether this project is in keeping with the vision of a green, sustainable waterfront that everyone can enjoy. Plans for a private dragon boat clubhouse and banquet hall in Marilyn Bell Park seem to have been dropped, at least for now.
But the dragon boat watercourse may be the first of several professional sports venues planned for the area - a BMX sports park could be breaking ground on the waterfront soon - messing with the greenery by the lake. Last December, the community was informed by Michael Heaton, the BMX course designer, that he'd asked the parks department for "adjacent parking" for the facility in Marilyn Bell Park.
Councillor Sylvia Watson, one of the main backers of that project, claims that "the Argonaut Rowing Club will be providing parking for the BMX facility." She has pledged to bring more "waterfront development" if elected provincially, but this is definitely not what the community had in mind. The sports facility's future is uncertain because she is now running for MPP.
Even so, the community is mobilizing feverishly to ensure that future projects will be considered within the scope of the Western Beaches comprehensive study.
When construction of the dragon boat course began last year, Parkdale residents watched in horror as truckloads of rocks from northern Ontario were dumped along the shoreline, blocking the view of the lake from Marilyn Bell Park.
Half a dozen meetings have been held with stakeholders over the last two years, but no residents associations were involved.
"There was a total lack of input from existing waterfront users," says Blunt.
White is surprised by what he characterizes as the TRCA's and the TWRC's lack of innovative thinking.
"Our park needs to be diverse and combine multiple uses of the waterfront," he says.
Roger Brook, another member of the Parkdale-High Park Residents Waterfront Group, doesn't think the projects are the right way to bolster tourism either.
"The same politicians who are always crying poor are often the biggest boosters of these multi-million-dollar scams that are designed to impress outsiders. If we invested our resources to make a wonderful sustainable city that local people could enjoy, we might be surprised to find that tourists would also be attracted," he says.
The dragon boat races are marketed as an international Olympics-style sporting event, but as Blunt points out, "This is not the Olympics or a world championship. It's a club regatta. Participants are mostly Canadian, and there actually isn't a whole lot of tourism."
Peggy Nash, MP for Ward 14 and a kayak enthusiast, acknowledges the high level of frustration about the lack of community consultation when it comes to the waterfront.
"Residents have not had adequate input on the future of the western beaches," she says. "What's been critical to the success of other waterfronts, including those in this city, is an open democratic process, where the community gets listened to and is part of the negotiations for a comprehensive waterfront plan."
Meanwhile, those who used to enjoy watching the sun set over the horizon will have to content themselves with sunset over Parkdale's great wall.