June 14, 2024


Buzz The Music

Fort York residents say it’s the wrong venue for an electronic music festival

Some residents of the Fort York area downtown are asking the City of Toronto to reconsider allowing a large scale electronic music festival to be held on the historic grounds this summer.

Citing a number of concerns from noise levels to crowd capacity, they say the area park, Garrison Commons, is not suited for the Electric Island music festival, that last took place in the area in September 2023. It’s set to return on the May and September long weekends this year.

“The noise from the festival is so loud, the sound waves actually crash against the windows of the building and then bounce off the other buildings so that the glass shakes while you are in your unit,” says Genia Elkind who lives in a ground floor unit that overlooks the venue.

“There’s lots of festivals here, so we are definitely used to it … you can hear pretty much all the festivals. However, this particular festival I found was much louder,” says area resident Eli Monfared.

The City of Toronto tells CityNews that all concerts held at Fort York must acquire a noise exemption permit, allowing levels to go beyond the 55 decibel (dBA) limit stipulated in the city’s noise bylaw.

“With a noise exemption permit, sound shall not exceed a sound level, expressed in terms of Leq (the energy equivalent sound level or the continuous sound level that would result in the same total sound energy being produced over a given period of time) for a ten-minute period, of 85 dBA when measured 20 metres from the source. Where the sound level exceeds 85dBA, the applicant shall comply with any request made by police or a Bylaw Enforcement Officer with respect to the volume of sound from the equipment to ensure compliance,” explains Communications Coordinator Jaclyn Cossarini.

“During the festival, the City will have sound level monitoring in place for the event and will have bylaw enforcement officers on-site to ensure agreed upon sound levels are adhered to.”

Noise exemption permits are issued with approval from the local ward councillor – in this case, Ausma Malik. The permits were granted to Electric Island last year, and have been granted again this year.

“This is a blatant disregard of the residents living so close to Fort York,” says Elkind.

Genia Elkind looks out over the Fort York area from her front porch that faces Garrison Commons. CITYNEWS/Dilshad Burman

In a statement to CityNews, Malik says she is taking the concerns of community members seriously.

“My office and I have been in ongoing contact with both residents and City staff to make sure we are proactively addressing issues identified and lessons learned from last year’s event for a successful event for attendees and for residents this year. This includes ensuring noise limits … are followed,” she says.

Monfared remains unconvinced.

“After seeing what had happened [last year] … I reached out to her office. They did get back to me, but I didn’t feel like they took the issue very seriously,” she says.

“They listened, but that was it. They were not dismissive, but they were not helpful. That’s not good enough in this situation,” adds Elkind.

When asked why an exemption was granted in a largely residential area, Cossarini says in a large and vibrant city like Toronto, “certain levels of noise are reasonable and reflect life in a densely populated city.”

“The Noise Bylaw balances the city’s vibrancy with the needs of residents and visitors and provides time restrictions and sound level limits for various types of noise,” she adds.

Community members also feel that the vast number of people the festival hosts is inappropriate for the venue.

“I work in the music industry. I want to see festivals doing well and artists getting those spots to entertain,” says area resident Sara Franczyk. “But this electronic music festival specifically is just, I think, not the right [fit] for this park. This is definitely not the right venue for a festival that large.”

“It was twice as big as any other festival I’ve ever seen in this location,” adds Monfared. “I can say maybe it was three times as many people than I’d ever seen at any other festival here.”

The City of Toronto tells CityNews that Fort York has a capacity limit of 6,800 people. This year’s festival is being jointly hosted at Fort York and The Bentway, with a combined capacity of 9,000.

“This is a huge number of people for that small area of land and the washroom facilities for that number is impossible to be supplied,” says Elkind. “No number of portable toilets can work. Last Labour Day, people were urinating and defecating in the [area]. I was shocked to witness this behavior.”

“The area for Electric Island will be fenced off with security guards at all entry points to ensure capacity limits are adhered to,” says Cossarini.

Monfared says that creates another problem — given the footprint of the festival, the fenced off area reduces access to the park considerably for several days.

“[Last year] for their setup, it was actually twice as long as any other festival that sets up. So they took about two days to set up, two days for the event and two days to tear down. So that’s almost a week that the park was closed … and I don’t think that’s fair,” she says.

“There’s only so much green space in downtown Toronto. I think it’s definitely unfair to the tens of thousands of residents around this park that they can’t enjoy local green space on major weekends,” adds Franczyk.

Elkind and Monfared also believe the large crowds damaged the greenspace and grounds.

“Because of the numbers of people, the grass was ruined and it has never grown back [in some areas],” says Elkind.

“[The large crowd] contributed to the grass being completely destroyed. It took until now, eight months later and some intervention from the grounds people to fertilize to get the grass back,” adds Monfared.

In addition, they say the area was left a mess in the aftermath of the festival.

“We noticed that compared to other festivals, there was a more amount of garbage left over after the event,” says Franczyk.

“I believe that there wasn’t even an attempt to clean up. There were cigarette butts and bottle caps everywhere,” says Monfared. “There was a sign from the event that was left basically in the park across the bridge for three weeks that a neighbourhood resident had to remove. So I just think that their lack of consideration for the environment and for the residents, it kind of left more of a sour taste in everyone’s mouth.”

“While waste management is the responsibility of the third-party organizer, City staff will support with site clean-up following large-scale events, including filling in holes, removing remaining garbage and conducting any damage assessments,” says Cossarini.

“As organizers, we work closely with the City to ensure we are operating in accordance with the guidelines set,” says Platform Entertainment, the organizers of Electric Island.

Malik says they will ensure that “cleanup and remediation of Fort York are promptly completed.”

But Monfared has little faith in those assurances and says that zip ties that held the festival fencing together last September can still be found on the grounds today.

“You can find them going into a circle of where the fence was set up,” she says.

Zip ties found in May 2024, where festival fencing was installed in September 2023. CITYNEWS/Dilshad Burman

As the May long weekend approaches, Elkind says she’s dreading the return of the festival.

“[Last year] the noise level was deafening … it was pounding and it was impossible to get any rest,” she says. “I would like them to move it. I think that the number of residents and the demographics here has changed tremendously. I think they have to move these type of festivals to other locations.”

Cossarini says if the proper permits and mitigation plans are in place, “Fort York remains a desirable location for organizers looking to host outdoor events in downtown Toronto.”

“Festivals of all kinds are critical to the cultural vibrancy and economic prosperity of Toronto and Fort York is a gathering place for the many diverse people who call Toronto home and those who come to visit our city,” she says.

Monfared says she, Elkind and other residents are now putting together a petition to present their concerns to the City of Toronto and Councillor Malik collectively in the near future.

“I’m not against events … there’s been events here for years, [but] I think that it’s a beautiful space. It’s a national historic site … and I think it should be respected.”