I live in the east end of Toronto near Lake Ontario and like to bike through the valley system carved by the Rouge River. The route takes me along the lakefront and east to the Pickering nuclear station and the giant wind turbine you see from far away. By bike it’s a 90-minute round trip. You immerse yourself in the peace and harmony of nature. Sometimes you even spot a deer.
It is a 10-minute ride from my house to the lake and then I bike along a pathway hugging the shoreline. Seagulls, ducks, maybe a fox, are part of the landscape. Then on to the mouth of the Rouge and the beachhead. On summer days this place is full of people. Just to the north are train tracks.
Two years ago I started taking my younger grandson on bike rides there. He was four and his two-wheeler had training wheels. His energy and zest were such that he made people laugh.
But spring that year, 2017, was different than any year I have known since we moved to this area 40 years ago. The water level of the lake had reached record levels. The Rouge beach was under water as was the road — the eastern extension of Lawrence Ave. — that leads down a long hill to the sand. The marshland, the road, the beach — everything — had become part of the bay.
Last year water levels were normal and my grandson, now 5, and riding that same bike, but without training wheels, could ride with me to the beach and accompany me across the bridge that crosses the Rouge into Pickering. We would ride to his beloved “ding-ding,” which is what he calls the signal switch for the trains; when a train comes through the signals chime “ding-ding.” Now he’s 6 with a new bigger and faster bike.
If you asked me a few months ago about 2017 being a once-in-a-lifetime event, I would have agreed. But this past spring the water levels of Lake Ontario were higher than two years ago. The beach was under water, the road leading to it submerged, and the marshland had joined the bay. And my grandson and I couldn’t bike to the next town, so no ding-ding.
A once-in-a-lifetime scenario has now happened twice in three years and just last week the area returned to normal. But the summer is almost over.
Something is going on here. The city has people pumping water out of the beaches, thousands of sandbags hold off rising water levels, which is why the Toronto Islands were closed again this year, and because I can’t do my route and we can’t get to the ding-ding, it’s personal.