West Island of Ontario Place closed without notice

Province continues to push ahead secret waterfront plan

Without any prior announcement or explanation, the West Island of Ontario Place is now closed to the public.

It wasn’t until a local resident noticed the crudely drawn sign while out for a morning jog — which incorrectly read “West Islands Closed,” suggesting there are multiple west islands ­— that anyone learned of the closure, according to Ontario Place for All co-chair Norm DiPasquale. An official announcement of the closure only came roughly an hour after Ontario Place for All had posted about it on social media.

Local councillor and Deputy Mayor Ausma Malik confirmed neither her office nor anyone at City Hall, to her knowledge, had received any notice around the closure, saying it was “a characteristic of the way the province has worked when it comes to Ontario Place. It has been sharing the notifications after the fact and sidelining or rejecting opportunities for a more collaborative approach to this work getting done.”

The haphazard nature of the closure is a symptom of “real disrespect” and “the lack of care they’ve been showing throughout this whole redevelopment process,” says DiPasquale.

Speaking with CBC News, a spokesperson for the Ontario Ministry of Infrastructure said the closure is related to “critical site servicing,” which began last September, and “will help protect the health and safety of everyone on the site as the project moves forward.”

That project will cost Ontario taxpayers roughly $650 million and involves the construction of a private mega-spa the size of BMO Field on the West Island, leased to Austria-based wellness company Therme Group for 95 years in a secret backroom deal (currently under investigation by the auditor general) as well as an underground parking structure for over 2,000 cars.

The project will also involve the destruction of over 800 half-century trees on the West Island, work which DiPasquale had understood was not supposed to begin until March. As for the reasoning behind the timing of this week’s sudden and unannounced closure, DiPasquale says, “Nobody from the provincial government has been willing to explain it, so we’re just left to guess.”

Coun. Malik called the closure “unacceptable,” saying, “For so many of us who use Ontario Place to be confronted with a hastily hand-scrawled sign that says that the access to the West Island is closed is pretty shocking.” Likewise, local NDP MPP Chris Glover shared a message for the Conservative government on X, formerly Twitter, saying, “Take down the sign, open up the gate, and reopen the park to the people of Ontario!”

However, the federal Liberal government has denied Ontario Place for All’s request for an environmental impact assessment of the province’s plans for Ontario Place, claiming in a statement that provincial legislation is already in place to “provide a framework to address potential adverse effects.”

“But,” DiPasquale says, “they’ve waived all those acts as part of Bill 154,” legislation that gives Ontario’s Infrastructure Minister Kinga Surma special authority to fast-track the mega-spa’s development.

Ontario Place for All plans a protest this Sunday (Jan. 14) and next Sunday (Jan. 21) at 1 pm at Ontario Place to chalk messages on the black barriers erected around the site.

For more information, visit OntarioPlaceForAll.com and follow Ontario Place for All on Twitter and Instagram.