Toronto

What happened to Toronto's swimming culture?

A look into Toronto's past shows crowded beaches - both in the water and out.

A look back over the years of swimming in the city

Cherry beach, photographed Aug. 19, 1935. (City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1244, Item 2176. )

To swim or not to swim?

That's the question this weekend as 11 of Toronto's beaches open, officially kicking off summer in the city.

While many beach-goers may opt for simply sun tanning, one Island resident says Torontonians shouldn't be reluctant to take a dip in the lake.

Kathleen McDonnell, who lives on Ward's Island, swam in Lake Ontario for 365 consecutive days, ending in April 2016. 

"I think it's a culture of swimming that is having trouble getting re-established here," McDonnell told CBC's Matt Galloway on Metro Morning Wednesday..

"Something must have happened 30 years ago because there was a culture of swimming in Lake Ontario, in Toronto. They had lake races — there's lots of evidence that people used the water and went right into the lake," she said.

She's not wrong. Here's a look at what some Toronto beaches in the summer used to look like.

North shore, Centre Island, photographed July 2, 1927. (City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 16, Series 71. )
Sunnyside Beach, likely photographed in 1909. (City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1244, Item 194. )
Toronto Swimming Club, photographed in 1912. (City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1244, Item 2176.)
So why not swim now? 

Despite the fact that the city tracks E. coli levels and the city's beaches get international Blue Flag awards if they meet certain water quality standards, fear of pollution seems to deter people from getting their feet wet. 

This concern, McDonnell says, is something that didn't hinder beach-goers in past decades as much as it does now. 
Toronto Swimming Club, likely photographed in 1912. (City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1244, Item 1570. )
 
Woodbine Beach, photographed August 19, 1935. (City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 200, Series 372. )
Swimming race at Toronto Island, photographed in 1914. (City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1244, Item 6051. )
If it's not the pollution that keeps people from entering the lake, it might be the temperatures. 

The water temperature in Toronto ranges from 8.3 C to 21.1 C, according to Global Sea Temperature.

"I like the feeling of cold water no matter what, but now it's actually swimmable," McDonnell.
Sunnyside Beach, photographed between 1920 and 1940. (City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 200, Series 1465. )
 
Hanlan's Point Beach, photographed in 1912. (City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1244, Item 168. )
Ward's Island, likely photographed in 1908. (City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1244, Item 672. )

With files from Matt Galloway

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