If you’ve been looking forward to dipping your feet in the waters of Lake Ontario at Pebble Beach or taking in a sunset from the West Island of Ontario Place, it’ll be a little harder to do so this summer.

Gates went up within the past week, shutting off access to the path through the marina that connects the West Island to Trillium Park, as the province prepares to re-develop the site into a private spa and water park.

A QR code on the gate signs directs people to a government website which says that “construction activities have started across the site” as part of the redevelopment of Ontario Place.

The message goes on to say that “site servicing construction work will begin soon to upgrade critical infrastructure, such as sewage, water, electrical and gas services” and that the work will require heavy machinery and construction equipment.

The blocked-off portion of the island includes the Ontario Place Marina, Cinesphere, and the areas around the shuttered log ride, which have been used for large public events and festivals in past summers.

Access to the pebble beach and a popular spot where people watch the sun set over the water with a view toward Etobicoke will remain open, but only from a narrow western access point. 

The full path through and around the island has been a popular spot for runners, pedestrians and families over the past few years, especially during the pandemic. It included basketball, courts, green spaces, walking and running trails and space for public events.

“At this time, Trillium Park, a portion of East Commons, Budweiser Stage, and a portion of the parking lots will remain open, in addition to the West Island for passive pedestrian use,” the government message continues.

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It goes on to say that access to the majority of the site will be closed off starting in 2024 to allow for active construction.

While Ontario place was a thriving attraction in the 80s and 90s, successive governments allowed the site to fall into disrepair over the past two decades.

The Ford government’s recently announced plans to build a large private spa on the site and to use some of the remaining space to move the Science Centre to a much smaller location have drawn public criticism.

A communications firm hired by Therme pointed out in an email to CP24.com that around 15 per cent of the space in the project will be devoted to spa services, while about 67 per cent of the space will be “devoted to wave pools, waterslides and family fun spaces.” The remaining 18 per cent would be for “sports recovery and rehabilitation services.”

The group “Ontario Place For All” has called for the government to seek greater public input about the future of the site and to commit to keeping it accessible to the public. The group held a rally and picnic on Sunday at the site.

“This government continues to demonstrate that they don’t care about the users of Ontario Place,” Ontario Place for All Co-Chair and former TDSB trustee Norm Di Pasquale said, slamming the government for not even publicizing the closure.

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Government House Leader Paul Calandra said Monday that he would not allow the municipality to stand in the way of the provincial government’s plans, despite the fact that Ontario Place has surfaced as an election issue.

“It is going to be an awesome place for the people of (the) province of Ontario, and we will not let obstacles get in the way,” Calandra said.

“We've seen this far too often in municipalities across Ontario and when they get in the way, we'll remove the obstacles and get it done.”

His comments come after some mayoral candidates weighed in on the closure of the West Island over the weekend.

Josh Matlow posted a video saying that as mayor, he would hold back the city-owned lands needed for the redevelopment.

“Doug Ford is shutting us off from Ontario Place just as the weather is getting warmer,” Matlow said in a campaign video posted Sunday. “Not only is that asinine, it's fundamentally wrong because we own this. It belongs to the people of Toronto and Ontario together.”

He went on to say that he’s “not going to let Doug Ford replace our public space with a private Austrian spa” and added that Ontario Place and Exhibition Place should be revitalized together and should remain public space.

Mitzie Hunter attended the rally on Sunday and posted about it afterward.

“Ontario Place is a part of our heritage, and it’s unacceptable that the current government wants to turn it into a private playground for developer friends. I will always stand up for our beloved Ontario Place,” she wrote in a tweet.

Front-runner Olivia Chow has also weighed in, tweeting “Doug Ford wants to close off our waterfront to most Torontonians with his private luxury mega-spa. Ontario Place should remain public land for public good.”

The government has touted the revitalization as an opportunity to attract millions more visitors to enjoy the site.

“We’re bringing more to Ontario Place with more beaches, more greenspace, more trails and more fun with the Ontario Science Centre, a year-round Live Nation concert venue and expanded food and beverage offerings so families can enjoy a meal together,” Premier Doug Ford said in a statement when announcing the updated plan in April. “Together with our partners, we’re building a world class, year-round destination that’s fun for families, students and tourists to enjoy for generations to come.”

But questions have been raised around the process for selecting the winning bid by European company Therme, which reportedly hands the company a 95-year lease, as well as the level of public consultation that was sought before deciding on the plan.  

Coun. Ausma Malik’s office told CP24 last week that public consultations that were promised to take place in June have not yet been scheduled.

“As far as we understand, IO and Therme have received substantial feedback from the public and City staff in the past months. If they are delayed in their response and formal resubmission, that can’t be a reason to compromise public engagement that was promised for June,” Malik’s office said.

-          With files from The Canadian Press

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