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Toronto's Ferry Boat Hijack

by Judi McLeod, Editor
June 9, 1999

A long hot summer is predicted for 1999, with The Docks, Toronto’s controversial waterfront entertainment centre adding much of the sizzle.

Touted as "the largest adult playground ever conceived", The Docks Nightclub, which seemed to have sprouted up almost overnight in 1995, has a track record for brazenly breaking the rules--and getting away with it.

Amid disquieting, but never proven rumours that a handful of city politicians own a piece of it, The Docks is still laying claim to a Lake Ontario boardwalk that is unquestionably public property.

Even after the city finally forced the removal of a fence keeping the public away from the boardwalk, "Public Welcome on Boardwalk Except During Club Hours" signage is still in place.

In 1997, City of Toronto Director of Inspections and Chief Building Official Pam Coburn confirmed for Toronto Free Press, that the move was illegal and that no city licence could cover the takeover of the public boardwalk lands by owners of The Docks.

Crowd control measures include frisking all patrons at the door. Pay police complement in-house security for large events such as July’s speedboat races, attended by local councillors. According to a member of Dock’s security, "we get up to 10,000 people here on a Saturday night."

Some claim that The Docks will ultimately become Toronto’s first large waterfront casino.

With the successful boardwalk takeover behind him, flamboyant Dock’s owner Jerry Sprackman--who is now demanding his own ferry dock at the foot of Polson Street-- has city bureaucrats working out the details of a ‘pilot project’ that could pinch city taxpayers with a whopping $475,000.

Taxpayers are already footing a bill of $80,000 for a temporary docking facility and other infrastructure just to conduct the summer long pilot project.

GTA bar and restaurant owners, tied up in red tape by city building inspectors and overzealous councillors, are seething, and wondering how Sprackman gets away with it.

Toronto Island residents, already battling the Docks over sleepless nights from the din generated by an official 3,168 seating capacity establishment, are not going down without a fight.

The latest scheme would see historical Toronto Island ferry boats rerouted to deliver Docks’ customers straight to Sprackman’s door.

It has not been a good era for the ferries, which saw a recent price hike of one dollar, and historic or not, must suffer the indignity of having to bear advertising for Kool-Aid, courtesy of city decision.

Giving the Docks the privilege of its own personal ferry is seen by many Island residents as "spending taxpayers money to the service of one man".

They worry that taking away the ferry to service the new Polson Street dock will inconvenience the majority of residents, visitors and tourists for a minority of one.

The Toronto Island Ferry Service operates five ferryboats, but only four of them service Island Residents and park users, and only in the summer, not year round. The fifth boat is the Trillium, which is used for charters only, not for serving the Island. During Spring and Fall seasons, there are only two or three boats operating, and only one boat in winter.

Islanders insist that the city is claiming overall expansion as a means to include the Dock’s ferry drop, and accuse the city of using "whitewash" tactics to accommodate the move.

City Director of Parks & Recreation, Cultural Services and the Waterfront John A. MacIntyre, argues peak season traffic congestion at the Queen’s Quay Ferry Terminal. City staff have not explained how they propose to inform visitors to the Island that they should now venture down to the Portlands to park and catch the ferry.

On summer weekends, there are two ferryboats running back and forth to Centre Island every 15 minutes. One boat leaves the Island as one leaves the City, and they cross in the middle. The majority of the people crossing on the ferry want to go to the main part of Centre Island, and now to the "clothing optional" beach at Hanlon’s Point.

The proposal to expand ferry service to Polson Street includes a cost sharing of $425,000 to $475,000 with the Toronto Harbour Commission (THC), but on June 8, the commission was out of business, having been replaced by the Canada Port Authority.

"It amazes me that people (City Council) are so gullible as to actually believe that the rationale for this pilot project ferry dock at the foot of Polson Street is, as Joe Halstead (Commissioner Economic Development, Culture & Tourism) states, a "response to a demand for service to and from the Portland area, and to provide relief from limited parking and congestion at the Queen’s Quay Ferry Terminal," said Toronto Island resident and business woman Deborah Danniels. "It’s obvious that this demand came from Jerry Sprackman of The Docks Nightclub."

"Mr. Halstead also says that it (the expansion) may improve access to "the emerging parklands and greenspace that is located within the Portland area". All anyone has to do is look at a map of that area, and you can see there is extremely limited parking at Polson Street and what there is, services The Docks Nightclub. As for greenspace, it hasn’t emerged yet."

Danniels says on busy weekends all the ferryboats are currently running at full capacity.

"If the City really wants to increase visitors to the Island parks, what is needed is another ferryboat, not another dock in the middle of nowhere. In my mind, the lost time of a boat travelling to Polson Street will actually decrease the capacity as opposed to increasing it. Mind you, it works well for Sprackman to get his customers over to his restaurant, especially when you realize that public transportation to the Portland area, where he is, stops at 6:00 p.m. So who really benefits here? Island Park visitors, city taxpayers or Jerry Sprackman?"

Supervisor of Metro Ferry Docks Gary Sims says the city is trying to expand its services during the months of July and August.only.

"We’re really only looking at six or seven weekends in total, and we’re trying to beef up our ferry service for everybody."

Council will review the pilot project in December.

"If we try it and it fails, that will be the end of it," Sims promised.

Canada Free Press founding editor Most recent by Judi McLeod is an award-winning journalist with 30 years experience in the print media. Her work has appeared on, Drudge Report,, Glenn Beck. Judi can be reached at: [email protected]

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