scarborough bluffs fence

Toronto is finally fencing off the Scarborough Bluffs to keep trespassers from falling

Today in "well it's about dang time!" we have the City of Toronto with a new fence meant to keep people from trespassing atop the Scarborough Bluffs — a persistent problem that has cost taxpayers hundreds of thousands of dollars in emergency rescue expenses.

City Councillor Gary Crawford, who presides over Ward 20 (Scarborough Southwest), announced this week that a six-foot-high fence was being installed at Scarborough Heights Park with an estimated completion date of Friday, June 4.

"Every year, natural curiosity has led visitors to our Bluffs parks to want to explore the natural terrain, despite existing signage advising against," he wrote to constituents. 

"They are often unaware of the possible negative consequences. Despite enforcement and the issuance of hundreds of tickets, the dangerous behaviour continues, resulting in Emergency Services personnel having to take action and conduct rescue operations."

The "dangerous behaviour" Crawford describes is not in reference to a few isolated incidents involving hardcore thrill seekers — rather, it's something that Toronto has been dealing with multiple times, every year, for many consecutive years.

What usually happens is that a person or a group of people venture out past the warning signs and chain-link fences onto the eroding escarpment that overlooks one of Toronto's loveliest beaches.

The goal is to take pictures (or feel cool, I guess?), but far too many of those who've attempted the hike have gotten stuck on the cliffside. In some cases, people have fallen upwards of 15 feet over the edge, sparking complicated tactical rescue missions involving dozens of first responders.

When discussing the problem and potential solutions at City Hall in October of 2019, it was revealed that each incident at the bluffs ties up eight fire trucks, on average, usually for hours at a time.

"Firefighters say that every minute they're delayed from a 911 call about a stroke or heart attack is the difference between saving somebody’s life and them losing it," said Councillor Paul Ainslie at the time, suggesting that trespassers be billed for all rescue costs in addition to the requisite $5,000 fine. 

And yet, the problem persists as we head into summer of 2021, prompting officials to try yet another strategy for keeping people off the bluffs.

"As well as being an extremely concerning safety issue, these repeated operations are expensive and put a strain on already stretched staff resources," wrote Crawford when announcing the new measure.

"In order to mitigate the safety risk, a 6 foot high fence is being put in at Scarborough Heights Park, where the majority of the park had no fencing at all. Over 500 metres of fencing is being installed in two sections of the Park."

Crawford says that the smaller west portion of the fence will follow the top of the embankment from the community garden all the way to the edge of the bluffs. An eastern portion will provide additional security by wrapping the lower half of the park along the cliff's edge.

Anyone thinking about hopping the fence to take selfies with the lake or whatever should be warned that the Scarborough Bluffs, which flank about 15 kilometres of shoreline and rise as high as 300 feet, have been eroding since their formation and continue to erode.

A hefty fine and embarrassing rescue are actually some of the less-horrible things that could result from going near the edge — way better, at least, than falling to a grisly death at the base of a cliff.

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