By Joanna Lavoie
December 13, 2007 12:12 PM
Thirty years ago a group of birdwatchers, naturalists and cyclists from Beach Riverdale got together to form a group that would work to ensure the preservation of the natural urban wilderness found at the Leslie Street Spit. They called themselves the Friends of the Spit.
“(The founders) wanted to get access to the land. It was just a dump site run by the (Toronto) Port Authority,” said John Carley, the group’s co-chair since the late 1980s.
“They were able to gain access for a bike tour and from there, Friends of the Spit was founded because they felt it should be open to the public.”
Three decades later, the grassroots group is well known for its advocacy efforts as well as stewardship of the five-kilometre man-made peninsula.
Friends of the Spit works to keep the site open to the public, free of vehicles and for passive recreational uses.
Working in conjunction with its official steward The Toronto and Region Conservation Authority, the group has hosted numerous environmental days and workshops at the site over the years.
Carley, an architect by trade, said Friends of the Spit also lends its support to several advocacy groups and is represented at waterfront planning sessions and workshops.
They’ve also sponsored bird and plant checklists and a book on the plants found there.
Always evolving, Carley explained that at first the group’s purpose was to obtain public access to the Spit and stop big development on the site. From there they began working with the TRCA to develop a plan for naturalizing the area. Since the early 1990s, Friends of the Spit has worked on projects to preserve the Spit as well as minimize the impacts of the new Lake Ontario Park and the neighbouring Portlands Energy Centre.
The group now has about 1,200 members, comprised mostly of local residents but also representatives from various groups and park users from all over.
“The Spit is a great learning tool for people. I think it’s a wonderful place to walk or cycle,” said Carley, who said he enjoys visiting the site all year long.
“I really like being alone out there. It’s a place of reflection, solitude. It’s so close to the city yet so isolated.”
Tommy Thompson Park (The Spit as it’s best known) was essentially created by the dumping of construction materials.
However, it’s now home to hundreds of plant species and serves as a major gathering point for more than 300 types of birds.
More than 250,000 people visit the Spit annually – and that’s just on the weekends and statutory holidays as it’s closed to the public during the week for construction crews to dump rubble, which is used to firm up the shoreline. Top of Page
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Friends of the Spit
P.O. Box 51518
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Toronto, Ontario M4E 3V7
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