Toronto beaches: Kew-Balmy beach
Kew-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.
The 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.
Preservation 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.
Three 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 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.
People 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 cafés, 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
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)
Krystyn 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