Hot town, summer in the city: 6 beaches for 3 million people

Toronto's beach season begins Monday with water quality testing and lifeguards on duty. But will there be enough beachfront to safely physical distance during COVID-19?

Water testing agency calls for more recreational swimming areas on Toronto's waterfront

Notice near Balmy Beach reminding beach goers to physically distance. (Philip Lee-Shanok/CBC)

Beginning Monday, swimming will be permitted at six Toronto beaches as the city starts water quality testing and lifeguards on duty. But with only six beaches for millions of people, some think the city should open more areas to recreational swimming, so people can safely distance during the pandemic.

Daisy Jones is from Cape Croker, near Owen Sound on Georgian Bay. Now that she lives in Toronto, she's glad the city is testing the water.

"I grew up in the water," Jones said. "Hopefully their levels are back to normal and everyone can swim safely again."

While she is concerned about physical distancing when the beaches get crowded, she thinks most people get it.

"I think everyone is smart enough to maintain the distance, but it will get crowded," she said.

"It will get hot and crowded, so there should be more places to go," said her friend Brian Path.

Daisy Jones and Brian Path visit Balmy Beach. They hope the beaches aren't too crowded this summer because of COVID-19. (Philip Lee-Shanok/CBC)

The six beaches include Bluffer's Park Beach, Kew-Balmy Beach, Woodbine Beach and Cherry Beach in the east and Marie Curtis Park East Beach and Sunnyside Beach in the west.

Mark Mattson is the Lake Ontario waterkeeper and president of Swim Drink Fish Canada. The group does water quality sampling all over the city, including spots outside of where swimming is permitted.

He says people have been cooped up during the COVID-19 pandemic and will be flocking to the city's waterfront, which will make physical distancing difficult.

"I think when it gets really hot, which we will see that later in the summer, the beaches will never be in such demand as they will be this year."

The city doesn't recommend swimming outside of the designated swim areas, in water that's not tested or without lifeguard supervision.

Mattson says there are untapped areas of the city that testing shows are safe for swimming, but he cautions people against taking a chance with E. coli or other contaminants.

"You can be careful after it rains and always stay out of the water for 48 hours after a storm, but generally you don't have the data to understand whether that water is clean enough for recreation or whether you can send your kids swimming or whether you should be throwing sticks to your dog, so that information is really important," he said.

Mark Mattson, president of Swim Drink Fish, says there should be more areas for recreational use than the six beaches opening Monday. He expects that crowds will make physical distancing a challenge. (Paul Smith/CBC )

"Toronto doesn't have that many beaches for how much waterfront we have, so look for new places. Where else is there clean water? Where else can we give Torontonians access to the lake?"

Mattson says the cleanest water for swimming is just off Ontario Place where the water is deep and cold. It's also close to the densely populated downtown core and Liberty Village, which would allow tens of thousands of people access to the water with enough space to physically distance.

"We need to be imaginative and creative as we move forward and look for more places where people could connect with the lakes. I think this summer it's going to be particularly important because a lot of people are staying home."

Ontario's ministry of tourism did not provide a comment to CBC Toronto.

About the Author

Philip Lee-Shanok

Senior Reporter, CBC Toronto

From small town Ontario to Washington D.C., Philip has covered stories big and small. An award-winning reporter with more than two decades of experience in Ontario and Alberta, he's now a Senior Reporter for CBC Toronto on television, radio and online. He is also a National Reporter for The World This Weekend on Radio One. Follow him on Twitter @CBCPLS.