The city is trying to allay the concerns of the LGBTQ+ community about the future plan for Hanlan’s Point
The beach at Hanlan’s Point on the Toronto Islands has served as a gathering place for the city’s LGBTQ+ community for decades, but some fear that may soon be in jeopardy.
A dozen people recently formed a group called Hands Off Hanlan’s to sound the alarm about the city’s master plan for the islands — a long-term planning document still in development. The plan is designed to guide decisions about the future of the area, which sees nearly 1.5 million visitors annually.
In a series of social media posts last week, the group questioned a proposal to create an “open-air venue” on the venue’s lawn near the beach to host “island-sized festivals and cultural events.”
Travis Myers, a member of Hands Off Hanlan’s, said he worries about what the proposal could mean for the LGBTQ+ community, which relies on Canada’s oldest queer space.
“That’s a lot of people who have experienced different types of vulnerabilities in different parts of our lives,” he said.
“If these elements are introduced without proper public consultation, I think there is reasonable cause for people to be alarmed, because they don’t know what exactly this master plan might be inviting into a space that has long been a safe space.” “
The outcry on social media has prompted city official in charge of the consultation process, Daniel Fusca, to speak out to try to dispel a “misunderstanding” and reassure the community that their voice is being heard.
The public dispute shows the intense emotions and tensions surrounding potential changes to the historically and culturally significant site.
The city has been deliberating on the plan for over 2 years
The city has been advising the public for more than two years on the master plan, which should be completed by summer 2023.
The process included: engagements with indigenous groups, community organizations, sports programmers, islanders and other stakeholders; public workshops to gather and discuss ideas for change; pop-up events for sharing information; an open house and more.
But Myers said the LGBTQ+ community has been largely left out of the process.
“There was a queer consultation meeting with only 11 people,” he said.
Fusca, public consultation manager at the City of Toronto’s Parks and Recreation Department, told CBC that more than 20,000 people have participated in the process so far.
He said the city solicited the views of the LGBTQ+ community through a targeted discussion and focus group that included Pride Toronto, trans advocates and other LGBTQ+ advocates. He said hundreds of Hanlan’s Beach users took polls or attended other public events.
Still, he acknowledged that more consultation could have been had with Hanlan’s Beach’s LGBTQ+ community.
“We probably could have delved further into Hanlan’s Beach users. That’s clear from the feedback we’re getting,” he said.
Tim McCaskell, a longtime gay activist, attended an initial advisory meeting and said the idea of a festival space never came up. He said the increased foot traffic and crowds such a space could bring raises safety concerns over possible nuisance.
“The real richness of this area is that it’s more natural, quieter and less bustling than the rest of the islands, and that’s what attracts people who want to go there,” he said.
“It’s worked for the last 50 years and I don’t know why the city wants to change that.”
“It’s worked for the last 50 years and I don’t know why the city wants to change that.” – Writer, educator and activist Tim McCaskell.
Hands Off Hanlan’s members have pored over the hundreds of documents the engagement process has produced so far. They argue that community support for a festival venue is almost non-existent, according to the city’s own research.
As an example, the group cites the results of a digital outreach campaign in which members of the public rated and commented on 140 ‘big ideas’. The summary document shows that the idea of having a publicly owned concert venue on the islands received a low score compared to other ideas presented that received high engagement.
In addition, the group argues that the city wants to “priority private profit over public space.” As evidence, the group cites a December 2020 city meeting with seven promoters and event management companies, including those involved with the Electric Island, Field Trip, Veld and Boots & Hearts music festivals.
“When we ran our online campaigns, there was an overwhelmingly negative response,” Myers said.
The master plan could still change, says the city
Fusca said the outdoor venue proposal in its current form would “formalize” a space that has been used for events for years. He said it could include an outdoor amphitheater defined by pathways and sloping lawns, with a power source and other infrastructure to support small events. It would remain public if not used for permitted events.
But Fusca stressed that the master plan should serve as a high-level document, not a detailed implementation plan.
“The misinformation is that this is going to be some kind of concert hall that will replace the Budweiser stage,” Fusca said. “There’s a lot of different ideas floating around … that it’s a finally baked plan.”
Fusca said there will be additional opportunities for the LGBTQ+ community to contribute, including at two upcoming events.
The city is holding a virtual meeting on Thursday, February 23 to discuss the idea of the outdoor event space. In the meantime, a workshop at the 519 Community Center on Monday, February 27 will focus on all of the ideas proposed in the draft master plan for Hanlan’s Point.
Fusca said these meetings would help the city determine the specific nature of community concerns, whether any “guardrails” needed to be in place to make people more comfortable, or whether the idea should just be dropped altogether