Last summer by this time we’d already been swimming in Lake Ontario several times. This summer we are despairing of ever getting in to swim. Record rainfalls and high water levels have transformed our shoreline. E coli levels are said to be at an all-time high. The island is still flooded and off limits to all but residents. We worry that there won’t even be any beaches at all when the water finally recedes – Gibraltar Point was already suffering massive erosion. And the mainland beaches themselves have shrunk with the high water levels until they seem almost non-existent.
We went beach prospecting to see if conditions have improved since we first got a glimpse of Woodbine inundated. We did not get to the easternmost and westernmost beaches, Rouge Park and Marie Curtis, but we checked out all the rest. The water temp felt frigid, although we didn’t measure it since we didn’t want to dip our trusty rubber ducky into this bacterial soup.
Bluffers beach is usually the most pristine of any Toronto beach. Deep, luxuriant, rock-free golden sand straight from the Scarborough Bluffs make it a pleasure to walk across this wide expanse. But now at least a third of it is an debris-filled pond populated by seagulls, and driftwood is strewn all along the shore. It is a grubby, filthy beach. Lifeguard chairs out in the water are a clear marker of how high the levels are.
We headed west to Kew-Balmy feeling hopeless, having seen the images of the destabilized, seemingly moated Leuty lifeguard station. Elation as we found it on dry sand, looking stable and perched on a normal, clean beach. We have never liked this beach with its irritating little pebbles, but we’ll take it now! It was the only intact beach we found.
Woodbine beach is still a bizarre carp lagoon.
Cherry beach, normally our choice for first dip of the year, is a narrow strip with several pools of water. Early in summer this beach is usually slightly warmer than more open water, but I doubt we’ll find out this year. Beside the lifeguard station, where we would usually enter the water holding on to its edges to avoid falling on the slippery, rocky incline, the water is now completely up to the floor of the station and leaves us nothing to grip.
Sunnyside, our last stop, is also totally transformed. Only seagulls can find the submerged breakwater. The boardwalk is flooded out in one spot and requires a detour. And the Sunnyside Pavilion is protected by sandbags, the high water narrowing the beach to almost nothing.
A disheartening state of beaches, flooded and debris-strewn, and that’s just what we can see. Scum collects along the edges of the pooled water; storm sewer contributions to the lake are horrifying to contemplate. The city says overflows are at least filtered, but many purple tampon applicators could be seen amongst the beach detritus. The beginning of June is usually when the city starts to measure and post bacteria levels at all beaches, but this June they haven’t started yet. Confidence in the swimmability of the lake had been increasing in recent years. Present conditions put that in jeopardy, even more so because there is no current information.
Storm runoff mitigation measures will take years and billions to complete. Will extreme weather mean we can’t count on having clean, safe water until then? Eventually the water levels will recede. Will our beaches be irretrievably eroded? Will Toronto still be a lake swimmers’ city?
– Schuster Gindin
Photos by Schuster Gindin
Swimming Toronto’s Beaches shows what our beaches look like under normal conditions.
Update to this update:
Beaches are still flooded, but lifeguards are now on duty and water quality is being tested.
It hasn’t been looking good but recent updates seem to indicate that the water at many beaches is currently swimmable.
Cristina Gonzales, Toronto
We kayaked out to the islands to see damage for ourselves. Water full of poo-like algae bloom.
Susan Grimbly, Toronto
Sad read “Lake swimmers update” by LIVING TORONTO but grateful for their concern.
Mark Mattson, Toronto
Nice work. Sad to hear about all the sewage debris 😦
Krystyn Tully, Toronto
The rain and cool weather has given us a real spring this year. The tulips were brazing. From my garden bubble I can’t see the impact rain has on the lake. Hopefully more can be done to reduce the waste entering the lake when it rains.
Alexander Moyle, Toronto
Watching the reports of flooding and high lake levels this spring, I didn’t think of these other disturbing side effects – good post!
Carol Phillips, Barrie ON
Bad news re the Toronto beaches; good news is Lake Huron is frigid but clean and swimmable. Come North.
Cheryl Kryzaniwsky, Port Elgin ON