TORONTO — There will be no more forcing people to heat themselves during cold snaps, no more sprinting, no more playing basketball on icy concrete.
The City of Toronto is in the midst of an ambitious effort to rebuild public recreational facilities ravaged by the 1985 citywide bone-chilling ice storm. The ice storm left much of the city devastated, closed off from the outside world, with some residents forced to live outdoors for days, if not weeks.
“A lot of these programs are going to be brand new,” said Katherine Woodward-Francis, the executive director of Canada’s largest city, as it opened 19 of its 27 sites on Friday. “It feels like a new start.”
None of the city’s recreation sites was affected by last winter’s ice storm, but Woodward-Francis said visitors would see many improvements in response. A new, larger ice-skating rink is to be built at College Park in the central part of the city. Some of the sites have minor upgrades to heating and air conditioning, while others will be carbon-neutral as they cut their own power consumption.
Anthony Perruzza, the city’s chief executive, said: “It’s a good testament to resilience. This wasn’t the first kind of storm to hit Toronto. This kind of storm hit Toronto in terms of impacts on society.”
The year after the ice storm, the city was criticized for spending millions of dollars on temporary fix-it sites that, some residents argued, were not permanent and soon closed. But given the relentless cold across much of the United States and Canada this winter, the Toronto outdoors are likely to stay relatively warm.
But with an estimated 7 million people in Toronto, it was not clear how many will show up for the changes to their beloved programs. It was the winter cold that drove many locals underground and into homes that were not heated by their homeowner, as well as the path of an air travel shut down that reached the West Coast and caused the cancellation of flights across North America.
“People are freezing to death all over Canada right now,” Marcel Audette, a ballroom dance instructor at Central Station, said on Friday.
During the July ice storm, he had to live at the station for three weeks until he was allowed back in his home on the street. His students have not used Central Station for the past six years because it was used as a command center by emergency authorities.
Alexandre Sandon, a trainer at Central Station, said on Thursday that some of his students had skipped a class to go shoveling their streets.
“There’s something about going on this way and being around others to get through it,” he said.