'It's like Waikiki or Puerto Vallarta': Sandy beach surfaces along North Saskatchewan River

When the ice on the North Saskatchewan River melted this spring, Cloverdale resident Paul Bunner saw something he hadn't seen before — a perfect sandy beach.

Cloverdale resident Paul Bunner hopes beach will inspire city to look into more amenities on river's edge

Accidental Beach on the southside of the North Saskatchewan River surfaced last year when temporary construction berms changed currents on the river. (Scott Neufeld/CBC)

When the ice on the North Saskatchewan River melted this spring, Cloverdale resident Paul Bunner saw something he hadn't seen before — a  perfect sandy beach.

The beach in the downtown Edmonton area is about six or seven blocks long, Bunner told CBC's Radio Active.

And it's pristine.

"It's like Waikiki or Puerto Vallarta ... minus the palm trees," Bunner said Friday. "In terms of beach quality, nice firm surface, great for wading, great for splashing around, great for playing in, great for sunbathing, great for sandcastle building. It's the whole deal."

The beach is the unintended consequence of a berm that was built on the south side of the river so city crews could begin building the new Tawatina LRT bridge, which crosses the North Saskatchewan River from downtown to the Muttart Conservatory.

Bunner, a self-described advocate of the North Saskatchewan River, has been using the beach ever since it appeared. He says the area is safe for swimming, because the current isn't strong close to the shore of the beach. Swimmers might still want to be wary of venturing out too far, and parents should keep an eye on children, he said. 

"The truth is, it's clean and safe and in my opinion, underutilized for recreation," Bunner said.

Cloverdale resident Paul Bunner said he hopes the beach means more Edmontonians take advantage of the river bank. (Scott Neufeld/CBC)

"What I do on a hot day is put my water shoes on and mask and snorkel, get in the water and let the current carry me all the way down the length of the island and get out and walk back up to the beach."

He's sharing the location of the beach because he says he hopes it draws Edmontonians to the river and inspires city councillors to consider new ways of creating recreational opportunities along the river.

Calgary has made some areas of the Bow River more accessible for residents, he said. As construction of the Valley Line LRT progresses, the city should consider ways of creating stone jetties along the river that could create more sandy beaches — on purpose, this time.

"This situation, this phenomenon this spring, demonstrates how simple, cheap and easy it could be," he said.

"There's a larger story about developments in the downtown river valley park lands that needs to be discussed because of the LRT project. It's going to make what I think of as Central Park, the downtown river valley park lands, accessible to all Edmontonians."