City drops plan for permanent festival space on Hanlan's Point after pushback from LGBTQ+ community

An LGBTQ+ community group says it's excellent news that the city has decided to drop the idea of a permanent festival space at Hanlan's Point after receiving community feedback. (Evan Mitsui/CBC - image credit)
An LGBTQ+ community group says it's excellent news that the city has decided to drop the idea of a permanent festival space at Hanlan's Point after receiving community feedback. (Evan Mitsui/CBC - image credit)

An LGBTQ+ community group in Toronto is thrilled that the city is no longer proposing a permanent festival space for Hanlan's Point Beach in its draft master plan for Toronto Islands.

Travis Myers, a member of Hands Off Hanlan's, a group that formed in response to the city's Toronto Island Park Master Plan, said in a statement on Tuesday that the decision to scrap the idea is excellent news. He said thousands of people in Toronto made their voices heard on the issue of Hanlan's Point, which he described as "Canada's oldest surviving queer space."

Myers said Hanlan's Point is special because it is where the first Pride event in Canada took place and it has been be a safe place for LGBTQ+ people in Toronto for more than 80 years, including when LGBTQ+ people faced even more virulent prejudice than they do now.

"It's amazing to see the city start taking the right steps in honouring the deep and impactful connection the queer community has had with Hanlan's as a community hub for so many people over 80+ years," he said.

Myers said community members told the city that Hanlan's Point is a "historic community hub" that needs to be protected.

"I can't stress enough how beautiful it has been to see so many people show their love for this unique and precious public space. It belongs to the community, and we really showed how true that is over the last few weeks."

The city had proposed to create an "open-air event space" on the lawn close to the beach for hosting "Island-sized festivals and cultural events." The master plan itself, a long-term planning document still under development, is meant guide decisions about the future of the islands, which see close to 1.5 million visitors per year.

According to Myers, the group did comprehensive archival research to create an informal "heritage report" on Hanlan's place in Toronto's LGBTQ+ history. Also, community feedback to the idea of a festival space was overwhelmingly negative, he said.

Mike Smee/CBC
Mike Smee/CBC

In a statement on Tuesday, the city said it made the decision not to include the idea of formalizing an event space at Hanlan's Point in its draft master plan due to community feedback. It held a public meeting at The 519, a city agency that serves the LGBTQ+ community, on Monday, organized a virtual meeting last week and created an online forum to allow people to voice concerns.

The city said its project team told people who attended The 519 meeting that the city will no longer propose "the formalization of the existing event space" at Hanlan's Point.

"The City of Toronto recognizes and celebrates both the historical and current importance of Hanlan's Point Beach to Toronto's 2SLGBTQ+ communities," the city said.

"Community and stakeholder consultation will continue, and we thank all those who shared their concerns and ideas and participated in the process."

Coun. Ausma Malik, who represents Ward 10, Spadina-Fort York and who attended The 519 meeting, said in a tweet that she heard in the discussion that the city must prioritize the history and connection of the LGBTQ+ community to the area and the community's need for safety, as well as the area's need for ecological sustainability.

For his part, Myers said the group needs to continue working to protect the space. Safety and security concerns around temporary event permits persist, he said.

"The city is beginning to officially frame the planning process as one that uses the history and culture of the 2SLGBTQ+ community as a foundation that informs all of the decision making for Hanlan's Point within the parks system. Now the work begins on holding the city true to their word," Myers said.

"For the future of events on the island, it looks clear that the safety and security of the marginalized people who use this space, along with the delicate ecology of Hanlan's Point, need to be the primary focus," he added.

"In order to accommodate these concerns, there needs to be a review of the permitting process for Hanlan's as it currently exists, especially when there are so many other fantastic locations to host live music and festivals that don't have to worry about issues like flooding or the safety of marginalized communities."