Toronto Harbour, ON - Angus Armstrong
Hello everyone my name is Angus Armstrong, I’m Harbour Master Emeritus for PortsToronto.
I’ve grown up my entire life around the water, moved here from St. Catherines where we lived on a little farm right down by the water, down to the beaches area. When I was about 7 my mother use take me swimming down by the water every day in the summertime. She was championship swimmer and really believed in being in the water. Now we didn’t see a lot of people swimming at that time, the water wasn’t in very good condition but that didn’t seem to stop my mother at all.
My brother became a lifeguard at Ludi Beach and I followed him and at 16 years old I became a lifeguard. After school, after high school and college I joined the Toronto Harbour Police and became a harbour policeman, worked downtown, worked the Island worked right out to the American border, 15 and half miles out in Lake Ontario. In my years of working on the water I’ve seen tremendous changes in the Toronto Waterfront. Initially it was ignored, it was a place where you would take all the snow, dirt, salt in the snow and dump it onto the ice in the winter time and allow it to melt through and pollute our waterways. It was a place where you used to store coal, used to store home heating oil down in the Portlands. These again really affected our lands down there and our waterways, but since we’ve started to revitalize and I saw this in the 70s with harbour front parks being opened, people started coming down to the waterfront. and when they started coming down to the waterfront they demanded better quality of water.
The city, the province, the Federal government and PortsToronto responded, working together at all these three bases and the waters improved drastically. In the 1970s I started diving for Toronto Police Department as a Marine Unit Diver. Initially the water was dark, there was nothing living on the bottom at all. It was literally just like a desert. By the time I finished in the 1990s, 2000s there were weeds, there were fish, they were crawfish, life had been returned to our waterfront.
There are still huge challenges ahead for us as far as this goes but the progress has been tremendous going forward. Some of the challenges we still have are, we have a lot of pollution coming down into our waterfront. When I say pollution, I'm talking about mean plastics, floating around. What we really need to do, is although PortsToronto does send crafts out every day to try to clean up the plastic, to try to clean up the wood, we have barriers across, and we pick up more than 40,000 tonnes of driftwood coming down the Don River, and plastic. We need to really educate people not to start polluting with plastics and maybe educate the government into not using one use plastics. Those are the things we need to do to make the waterfront a little bit better.
Let’s face it, fresh water is becoming a scarcity. There’s no more freshwater in the sub Sahara. Southern United States is running out of fresh water. This is a resource that should be looked at as gold. We have fresh, clean water. Used to be that when we got people up from the east coast, professional mariners, they used to say, “We’ve come up to the sweet water.” And we’d say, “What do you mean by the ‘sweet water’?” and they’d say “Water you can drink. It’s called the sweet water.” That’s one thing we have to protect. We have to make sure we have that, not for our generation, but for future generations going forward. And that’s what PortsToronto is out there doing.
Flooding has suddenly become an enormous problem all across North America. Truthfully, most of the environmental scientists we've talked to say, the 100 year flood is now probably going to happen every ten years. This is climate change. What happens in climate change a lot of times is a lack of moderation and that means some years it doesn’t rain at all and other years it rains way too much. Look what happened in the Carolinas and certainly in the Philippines, we are going to see more major flooding with out question so we have to be prepared. And the city of Toronto, along with the Conservation Authority, the federal government, PortsToronto, and the province understands this and that's why they're doing a diversion of the Don and making sure that floodplain is prepared for anything that may happen in the next 100 years.
You know a lot of people have come to me and said I don't understand what you're talking about I don't see anything to experience on Lake Ontario. It's not like the Muskoka Lakes, but they're wrong. This is a huge ecosystem, the fishing is fantastic if you want to get out here and fish, it's more like an inland ocean. It’s something to experience something to enjoy, for sailing, for canoeing, for kayaking, there's all sorts of experiences to be had out here. I think because it was industrialized there is a stigma left in it but the truth is this is a living growing lake, it's a wonderful experience, I’d tell everybody get out on Lake Ontario and enjoy it.
When I was about, I think about 25 I got involved in an organization that was going to paddle across Lake Ontario from Niagara. We were going to have a voyageur canoe race. That is a large canoe, 10 participants per canoe going from Niagara Lake all way across Lake Ontario to the eastern beaches, which was Woodbine Beach as a matter of fact. I went into it really enthusiastically. We started at the start line with seven crews, we immediately fell into last place where we stayed for most of the trip. But I loved the experience. Eventually we were alone in a canoe in the middle of Lake Ontario. You could not see land on either side, there was a slight rise and fall of the Lake, we saw a sea birds going by. It was an experience where you suddenly realize you're not far from the city but you're in the wilderness. That's an experience and that's exceptional and that's one that I expect everyone to try and go out and enjoy. If you want to go in a canoe, a kayak, if you want to go in a sailboat, a powerboat it's the Wilderness at our doorstep that’s so fantastic.