After years of political dealing, debates, studies and assessments, Billy Bishop Toronto City Airport is being connected to the mainland via an under-construction pedestrian tunnel link to the foot of Bathurst Street. While some Torontonians have decried the project as a threat to the peaceful communities on the islands, the tunnel is not the first connection between the city and the Islands. In fact, up until the mid-1800s, the islands were actually a single peninsula, made up of silt deposited by lake currents eroding the Scarborough Bluffs, and connected to the mainland by a narrow sandbar. The connection was washed away by severe storms in 1858, and the peninsula broke up into a several islands.

Made up primarily of sand and silt, the shorelines of the islands have always been subject to rapid changes, which caused damage to some of the islands’ many waterfront cottages in the mid-20th century. Following both calls for action and protest, the Municipality of Metropolitan Toronto stepped in and developed the islands as a regional park. To combat the erosion problem, all shorelines exposed to heavy currents were lined with rock walls, effectively freezing the shores of the Toronto Islands as they were in the 1960s while allowing both residential and recreational uses of the islands to continue thriving.

Toronto Island AirportToronto Island Airport, image by Jack Landau

While the islands of today have been largely spared from both erosion and development, the airport on Hanlan’s Point has been operating in one form or another for around 75 years and is both the most contested and most important single piece of infrastructure on the islands. As drawn out debates about jet aircraft and runway extensions continue to press forward, a group of students from the University of Waterloo School of Architecture are proposing an alternative plan for the large swath of land in an exhibition called ‘Re Visioning Toronto Island Airport’, running from September 17 – October 24 at 401 Richmond West. 

Re Visioning Toronto Island Airport, Waterloo School of ArchitectureRe Visioning Toronto Island Airport

The students propose that the airport lands are a perfect opportunity to strengthen Toronto’s core and growing urban population by providing easily accessible recreational and agricultural zones.  Although the majority of the project focuses on reclaiming the airport as a reimagined public space, the plan also offers a reimagined vision for the entire central waterfront. The free exhibition opens at 6pm on Tuesday, September 17th at URBANSPACE Gallery located at 401 Richmond Street West.