Hundreds of boaters at the Ontario Place Marina -- many who’ve become ingrained in the vibrant nautical community over decades -- will scramble to switch up their plans this season. 

For some, this may even involve selling their beloved boats. 

On Tuesday morning, boaters received an email from the Ontario Place Marina Office informing them that they would not be able to use the facilities in the fast-approaching 2023 season -- one that typically begins as early as late April or early May -- to accommodate widespread construction plans. For those in the dark, Ontario Place is set to see a massive facelift across the sprawling Province-owned property. 

“As part the redevelopment of Ontario Place, construction activities have started across the site, including repairs to the Cinesphere, pod complex, and bridges,” reads the email. “Site servicing construction work is scheduled to begin this spring to upgrade the site’s critical infrastructure, such as sewage, water, electrical, and gas services.” 

Citing a top priority of “the safety of the public and workers,” the email informs boaters in bold lettering that the North and South Marina at Ontario Place will be closed, starting in what would have been the 2023 season. Passenger pick-up and drop-off will also not be accommodated. 

This means that the marina’s 240 slips will sit empty for the foreseeable future. And countless caught-off-guard boaters will have to scramble make other arrangements, kissing the tight-knit community they’ve established goodbye and likely dropping a lot of money to relocate in the process. That is, if they can afford to relocate.

When STOREYS reached out to the Ontario Place Marina, a statement provided largely echoed the contents of the email to boaters. Notably, they did not answer questions as to whether or not they believed the mid-February email would hastily leave boaters in a lurch for the coming season. Similarly, we were met with silence when we reached out to Minister of Infrastructure Kinga Surma's office -- which oversees jurisdiction of Ontario Place -- with the same question.

Reps for Ontario Place did tell STOREYS that, naturally, plans to reopen the marina depend on completion timelines. “New investment will help protect against rising lake levels and modernize the marina buildings,” they said. The current facility is aging and in undeniable need of upgrades -- something the boaters agree on. 

“We look forward to re-opening an updated marina facility at the future redeveloped Ontario Place which, once complete, will be a remarkable world-class, year-round destination that will include family-friendly entertainment, public and event spaces, parkland, and waterfront access,” reads both the email to boaters and the statement to STOREYS. 

While that sounds lovely, it’s no consolation to those left high and dry this boating season, who collectively express anger at what they call an inadequate and unacceptable degree of communication.

One long-time boater -- who didn’t want his name used due to fear of retribution (i.e. losing his slip) once the marina re-opens -- says he was in the know about the fate of this year’s boating season, but that a lot of boaters weren’t. While it was common knowledge that the marina could close in the future, the Ontario Place Corporation was tight-lipped on any details regarding timelines.

“There were rumours and there was some information shared through alternate sources for some boaters, as well as chatter on certain social media channels,” he says. “But I would say that more than 70% or 80% actually didn’t think it would happen and assumed they’d give us ample notice. I live across the street and follow the construction closely -- they just put construction netting on the bridge -- but some only knew when they received the note.” 

The boater calls out "a perpetually vindictive" Ontario Place Corporation for knowing for “at least six months” that construction would soon start. “Many of the buildings -- the pods, the Cinesphere, the bridge, probably the gas dock, washroom buildings -- are out of engineering code and would not pass City inspections,” says the boater, who has industry information. “They’ve known for over a year that the site was not fit for occupancy by tenants and the public. So, they knew and did nothing to inform boaters. There was a disconnect between the Ontario government knowing this would happen and not telling Ontario Place and the subsequent failure to tell 240 seasonal tenants about the plans to close until the 11th hour.”

He says the Ontario government had a clear duty to inform boaters months ago, and fellow Ontario Place boaters share his sentiment.

“I don't understand how the same government that said Ontario Place was for the people -- all the people of all times -- could do this to us,” says Skylar Lee, who is a boater at the South Marina at Ontario Place. “We expected that they would make some provisions to keep us there, as many of us have been there for a long time. Many live-aboard boaters are now going to struggle to find accommodations. This is going to cause a surge in marina pricing also, which will reflect the now much higher demand for slips downtown.”

Most of the city’s nearby marinas are already either full or costly. “By March 31, all marinas are full for the year,” says the long-time boater. “Others have pricey fees to join. There’s this misconception that boating is strictly a wealthy person’s hobby, but the reality is that some people simply won’t be able to relocate because it can cost up to $15K.” He estimates that 160 to 180 of the boaters will be displaced and not be able to relocate in the GTA unless they fork out cash for a private club. 

“Boulevard Club is more expensive than National Yacht Club and they have fewer slips -- maybe only 50 or 60 slips. Mimico Yacht Club is private and charges an initiation fee as well,” he says of local marinas. “Marina Quay West downtown is full with a five-year waiting list. They only have about 100 slips, so they’re always full. The one at Amsterdam Brewhouse is always full too. Outer Harbour is apparently all sold out with over 40 people on the waiting list, according to the manager.” 

In an eyebrow-raising move, the City-run Outer Harbour Marina -- which is located near the Beaches -- raised their rates by a whopping 35% as of February 3. “I’m wondering if there’s some collusion there between the city and the province,” questions the boater. “As a City-run entity, to increase their rates so substantially overnight is just not fair.” 

To put things into perspective, Ontario Place Marina was about $110 to $115 per foot with HST for the season, according to the long-time boater. “Meanwhile, Outer Harbour Marina, for example, is now $147 to $182 per foot, plus HST for the season," he says. "So, for me, it’s more than double the cost. Ontario Place is one of the cheaper places to stay in the GTA.” 

Ontario PlaceOntario Place Marina

There is room at the neighbouring National Yacht Club for boaters with pockets deep enough. Forecasting higher demand to join the National Yacht Club, our members invested in the club and are replacing and adding to our docks,” Meaghan Hawkins, National Yacht Club’s General Manager and Chief Operating Officer tells STOREYS. “The new design being installed now allows NYC to add more capacity for additional boats and larger sizes of boats. We are pleased to be able to accept new member applications for this year on our new docks.”

But enjoying a piece of breezy waterfront real estate doesn’t come cheap. 

To join a club, there are first-year costs such as initiation, and annual costs like member dues and dock fees,” says Hawkins. “A new boater with a 35’ boat can expect to pay around $10K for initiation and $5K for annual fees, and around $5K for each subsequent year (not including winter storage). In addition, an important part of our Club is community, and as a result members volunteer a minimum of 20 hours each year to help benefit the Club and community.”

Sadly, some boaters will inevitably be forced to put their boats in storage or sell them all together. Adding insult to injury, they lack legal protections. "The issue is that seasonal tenants have no legal recourse to sue, it’s a relatively vague year-to-year contract that makes no mention of cancellation of occupancy," says the long-time boater. “It just says your lease could be revoked in the summer season for a variety of reasons, for example, behaviour."

Despite the drama, looking forward, many of the boaters say they’re interested in renting slips at the revamped Ontario Place Marina once it’s ready. But -- sticking with the theme -- communication surrounding this possibility is currently lacking, say the boaters. “We expected to be grandfathered in to the new park, but we haven't been given any indication of future first right of refusal,” says Lee. 

Not to mention, there’s no word -- or guarantees, for that matter -- on how long construction will take. “They closed the park to foot traffic in 2012 and took the few remaining attractions down,” says the long-time boater. “It’s been ten years and the only thing they’ve developed was Trillium Park, which went three times over budget. It was supposed to take three years and it ended up being the better part of five or six years. That’s what everyone fears is going to happen now.”

Well, we can't say we disagree on that one.