Following the second straight Victoria Day firework celebration at Woodbine Beach Park crashed by masked miscreants that ended with two people shot, one person stabbed, seven injured police officers, and pyrotechnics fired at revellers, the days of hosting such events in that neighbourhood could be numbered.
Sunday’s bedlam in Ashbridges Bay lasted about four hours, according to a neighbourhood resident in front of whose house the scene unfolded, and while there was a heavy police presence during Victoria Day fireworks Monday evening, he says Toronto Police Service told him it had difficulty raising enough manpower to respond to the mayhem a night earlier.
Nineteen people have since been arrested.
“The police had given us the excuse that it was because of the long weekend and they couldn’t get enough resources because officers were off for the weekend,” Desmond Brown, a 20-year resident of Ashbridges Bay, told STOREYS. “I don’t buy it. It was very poor planning because this happened last year as well, also on the Sunday night before Victoria Day. They knew this could happen again and had all the warnings from social media. My kids even knew about it because it was on TikTok. This was poor planning by the police.”
In addition to two men being shot and one stabbed, pyrotechnic-calibre fireworks were fired directly into the dense crowd of attendees, again and again as they fled in panic. Brown could hear them screaming from inside his home and witnessed them running onto his and his neighbours’ lawns and front porches, the space between houses, and anywhere else they could find shelter from the firework fusillade. Among the seven police officers injured, one was reportedly shot directly in the face and sustained serious abrasions, as did his eyes and ears, two officers were burned and had ear injuries, and one suffered a broken leg.
Brown noticed a BMW stop and park in front of his house from which three men, he described as probably in their early 20s, alighted before, he quizzically observed, they layered themselves in clothing. Then they pulled up their sweater hoods and put facial masks on and proceeded to attack the crowd, periodically returning to the car for more ammunition. At one point, Brown saw a large box of fireworks in the backseat, and after subsequently speaking to neighbours down the street, he claims two more cars were parked nearby for the same purpose.
Noting that he had a clear line of sight, Brown said, “They were shooting things like these really huge cylinders that were almost like a bazooka that they would shoot out from. The next morning I went out and saw a label [on a discarded box] that said ‘101 shots.’ One cylinder had 101 shots. They had whole boxes of other things too. That’s the type of firepower they had down there, not a one-shot Roman candle.”
Amid the chaos, some of the alleged troublemakers breached a private condominium entrance and ran roughshod throughout the building, frightening some of its elderly residents, Brown says.
"If You Come Down Here, Be Respectful"
Brown is among a cohort of long-time neighbourhood residents and active community members who have started lobbying to have the fireworks celebration moved to a different location.
“I want to make clear that we welcome people to come down here, but please be respectful,” he said. “We knew what we bought into; we knew it was a busy destination for a lot of people because the beach is beautiful, and we’re fortunate to live here, but my god, if you come down here, be respectful because this is also a neighbourhood with families. We cannot tolerate violent behaviour that terrorizes us and threatens our comfort of living.”
The residents, who have been in contact with Mayor John Tory’s office, only to receive a “template, canned email,” aren’t the only ones urging city hall to find a new location for Victoria Day fireworks. Brad Bradford, city councillor for Ward 19, Beaches-East York, has been knocking on residents’ doors to reassure them that, next year, there won’t be a third consecutive Victoria Day weekend marred by violence.
In an emailed statement to STOREYS, Bradford inferred that the city had already been supplicated to provide “appropriate safety and enforcement measures,” presumably after the violence exactly a year earlier, but “Unfortunately, they were not provided and our area became the case study for lessons learned as return to long weekend celebrations.
“In contrast, the organization and execution on Monday night kept the area relatively peaceful and enjoyable for residents and visitors alike. It points to the need for our large institutions to take a serious look at the planning and allocation of resources for long weekend and big events.”
Woodbine Beach Park hosts numerous events throughout the summer, including the Jazz Festival, Rib Festival --there’s even the Soup Festival -- none of which devolve into disorder like this past Sunday. While bacchanals will be had and a little detritus leftover -- which Brown says most residents accept comes with the territory -- violence is intolerable. Unfortunately, that sometimes comes with the territory too.
“We don’t have shootings in our neighbourhood but we had a murder down there a couple of years ago during the fireworks. It happened right on the Lake Shore, right outside of No. 9 boardwalk,” Brown said. “We’re not into NIMBYism, but we put up with a hell of a lot here, picking up garbage and beer cans all across the beaches from Coxwell to Victoria Park. We put up with it three months a year because we love the location, but we’re pulling out dirty diapers from our front lawns, beer bottles, garbage, people are even urinating on our front lawns and between our houses. A lot of families aren’t fortunate like we are to have [the beach] steps away, but be respectful.