Sign of cooling centre in front of East York Civic Centre

Cooling stations offer East Yorkers a breath of fresh air

Local centre enters fourth day of operation after heat warning extended

East Yorkers looking for respite from the record-breaking temperatures currently blasting the city can pop by the East York Civic Centre for a breath of cold air.

The civic centre, located at 850 Coxwell Ave., is one of seven cooling stations opened to the public whenever the City of Toronto issues a heat warning, as it has for the last several days. It’s the only one operating in East York.

Temperatures climbed into the 30s over the weekend and will remain there until Thursday, according to Environment Canada, when they’ll drop to a more comfortable 19 degrees.

The cooling centres are aimed at those who may not have anywhere to go. Run in partnership with the non-profit organization Working for Change, Toronto Public Health (TPH) is responsible for providing sites for the volunteers to use.

Photo of exterior of East York Civic Centre
Air conditioning and easy access to facilities makes the East York Civic Centre a prime location for a Cooling Centre (Eden Debebe)

Established in 1994, Working for Change focuses on a variety of issues,  including employment for people with mental health issues and empowering the impoverished to take part in policy discussions within their local government.

According to Rajesh Benny, manager of healthy environments with TPH, extended heat warnings are set by Environment Canada when a forecast of 31 degrees, or a humidex of 40 degrees, occurs for three or more days.

Cooling stations are described on the city’s website as “a place to rest and allow the body to cool down.” Those staffing the sites provide visitors with iced water, granola bars and pamphlets on heat-related illnesses. They’re trained in First Aid and CPR, making them viable first responders for those who are coming into the centre with signs and symptoms of heat stroke or exhaustion.

Benny wants people to know that anyone can be susceptible to the heat.

“Hot temperatures can be dangerous to one’s health, with impacts ranging from mild symptoms such as cramps and nausea through heat exhaustion to heat stroke,” he said.

“While everyone is vulnerable to the effects of extreme heat, a lack of access to cooling such as on-site air conditioning increases risks for some people more than others, including people who are marginally housed or homeless, isolated seniors, people wot chronic and pre-existing illnesses and children.”

Residents who are not close to an official cooling centre can visit other public spaces providing a similar service.

“Air-conditioned public places, including shopping malls or one of the many local libraries or community centres across the city, can provide relief from the heat,” Benny said. “A few hours in a cooler environment during extremely hot weather lowers the core body temperature and helps to protect against heat-related illnesses.”