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Sports & Play

Toronto beaches: Kew-Balmy beach

Posted by Guest Contributor / June 25, 2012

Kew-Balmy Beach TorontoKew-Balmy Beach in Toronto is like a dance — always changing, always the same. The stretch of sand, park, and boardwalk that runs from Kew Gardens to Silver Birch Avenue in Toronto's east end is and always has been "The Beach." For over a century, this strip has been the go-to place for innocent amusement. It is the mature sibling to youthful Woodbine Beach next door.

Kew-Balmy Beach TorontoThe line between earth and water is always shifting here. Lake Ontario's waves lick constantly at the unsheltered 2-kilometre stretch of waterfront, reclaiming sand from land. Every 200-metres, manmade rock fingers reach out into the lake. They create a series of embayments that help to stabilize the shoreline and preserve the long, thin stretch of beach.

Kew-Balmy Beach TorontoPreservation is a recurring theme at Kew-Balmy Beach. Kew Gardens park, named after London's Kew Gardens, has occupied the space between Queen Street East and Lake Ontario since 1879. Legend has it that the recently-restored Leuty Lifeguard station has helped save more than 6,000 lives since it was built in 1920.

Kew-Balmy Beach TorontoThree different amusement parks have come and gone and dance halls are no longer filled with young people doing "The Balmy," but the spirit of wholesome entertainment lives on.

Kew-Balmy Beach TorontoKew-Balmy is where dog-owners come to let their pets run free at the off-leash park, artists come to build rock sculptures on the sand, and where buskers line the boardwalk. The beach also serves as the ideal spot for canoers and kayakers put their boats into the water, and where Stand Up Paddle boarding is taking root in Toronto. The boardwalk is packed with people on weekends, just as it always was.

Kew-Balmy Beach TorontoPeople also come to Kew-Balmy to swim. If you can see the Leuty Lifeguard station or the X-metre Blue Flag, you are in the right place. Water quality meets Ontario standards about 6 of every 7 days. The beach is noticeably rockier than Woodbine and sunbathers will find themselves within feet of the busy boardwalk. Even still, Kew-Balmy is quieter than its sibling to the west and more laid back.

After a day on the water, you can walk north a few short blocks to the caf├ęs, pubs, and other shops that line Queen Street East.


Water quality rating: Blue Flag

Number of days closed due to water quality problems since June 2011: 13

Lifeguards? Yes

Sand quality: A mix of sand and small rock

Nearby trails: Boardwalk & Martin Goodman Trail

On-site facilities: Snack bar, washrooms

Transit: 501 Queen Streetcar to Lee Avenue. Limited street parking.

Other perks: Off-leash dog park immediately to the west, home of Beaches Jazz Fest

People watching potential (out of 3): 1

Aggressiveness of seagulls and geese (out of 3): 1 (not really a problem here)



Kew-Balmy Beach TorontoKew-Balmy Beach TorontoKew-Balmy Beach TorontoKew-Balmy Beach TorontoKrystyn Tully is the co-founder of Lake Ontario Waterkeeper, a Toronto-based charity working for a Lake Ontario in which you can swim, drink, and fish. Check out her Swim Guide smartphone app for more info about beaches in Toronto and beyond.

Photos by Scott Snider



Adam / June 25, 2012 at 05:32 pm
Kew, Balmy, Woodbine. Sounds like there are multiple BEACHES. Maybe that's why everyone's always called it the BEACHES... yet the city of Toronto names it the BEACH. win.
Spikeymom / June 26, 2012 at 11:37 pm
Some years ago there was a vote in The Beach, asking residents to vote for the name they call their community.
Residents voted for "The Beach." Most of us say we live in The Beach. It's mostly non-residents who use the name "The Beaches."
But some names will never be changed: e.g. "The Beaches Jazz Festival" and "The Beaches Easter Parade." I figure both names will continue to exist for the foreseeable future.
John Helfrich / February 21, 2013 at 05:38 pm
It's worth mentioning that Kew/Balmy Beach is the focal point of the Stand Up Paddle Boarding Community in the Beaches. As you said above, it's way more laid back than Woodbine Beach - which is often plagued with jetskis.

So if you want to try SUP (that's what those in the know call it) you can get a lesson or rent a board from SUPsurf or one of the other local shops. You'll have to find them online and book in advance though. No businesses are allowed to sell anything on the beach.
Kris / May 31, 2013 at 03:05 pm
As some commenters had previously mentioned, I’d be careful with your claim, “it is and always has been The Beach”. I know you’re specifically referencing Kew/Balmy in this post, but your point seems to target the more general area which had not always been The Beach (but also The Beaches). I’ve lived here for twenty years but I’m no stickler about using one or the other - I use both terms interchangeably.

I found the opening line a bit confusing: “Kew-Balmy Beach in Toronto is like a dance — always changing, always the same”. Not sure I see the reference to dance? But you’re right: There’s always something going on. I like how you capture the bustle and vibrancy of the area but also highlight the serene side. I didn’t know about the rocks and the eroding shoreline, nice tidbit. Also, great imagery with the wording (“Ontario's waves lick..”). Nice to see the breakdown at the end, adds some scannability to the piece.

Thanks for sharing!
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