A How-To Guide to Swimming Toronto's Beaches

Not that anybody needs reminding, but summer has finally arrived! And while for cottage-owners and the moocher-friends of cottage-owners that means lots of beer, bbqs, and long dips in the lake, city-slickers who have to tough it out through the summer often think they get the short end of the summer-stick.

Last week's announcement that Toronto's Beaches have opened passed with relatively little fanfare, likely because lots of people in the city still aren't used to the idea that they CAN swim in the lake. As someone who makes a point of swimming in Lake Ontario at least a few times every summer, I'm going to offer a few tips on how to take a swim without fear of growing extra fingers or losing your eyesight - it just requires a bit of preparation and research.


1) Before you head to the lake, check TorontoBeach.ca, the city's updated-daily water cleanliness site. While some parts of the site are a bit dense (the first tip on Beach Safety is "Learn to Swim"), it's a useful resource to consult to educate yourself about water quality.

2) Follow the link to Check Toronto's Beaches to find calculations of the bacteria-levels in all eleven of Toronto's beaches. If you're not interested in the science behind these numbers, the site has a handy map of the city with green dots over safe beaches and red dots over unsafe ones. As of this writing, ten of the eleven are safe.

3) Do not go swimming during a storm or the day after it has rained. Among the chief contributors to lake pollution are some of the older sewers in the city that empty out into the inner harbour during and after a downpour. Since rainwater collects a lot of nastiness on its way into and through the sewer system, it's something you'll want to avoid. It usually takes about a day or two for dirtied areas to clean themselves, but if you keep your eye, on the Toronto Beach website, you'll be able to hop back in as soon as the mess has cleared. It takes a psychological leap to head into water that was too polluted to swim in the day before, but it's always worth it.

4) Don't feed the birds, no matter how cute they are or how nature-loving it might make you look. The birds, you see, don't extend the same thought to you, and when their bodies have processed whatever you've given them, they release it over the lake. Not only is bird poop unappealing to swim in, but it's also one of the highest contributors of e. coli in the water. Plus, once you feed 'em, good luck getting the bastards to leave you alone.

5) The cleanest beaches (in my experience) are the ones on the Islands (with the exception of Centre Island, which closes pretty regularly), Cherry Beach, and Woodbine. Sunnyside, Marie Curtis, and Rouge Beaches were closed a big chunk of last summer, with the others falling somewhere in the middle.

With a little preparation and some faith in the water-testers, you have as much opportunity to cool off in the water as those who leave the city every weekend of the summer. While it's hard to replace the peace and tranquility of a cottage in the middle of nowhere, lake-swimming is lake-swimming, and with all the festivals, concerts, and special events going on in the city, you can towel off, hop in the shower, and hit the town to experience the best of both worlds.

Top image by tysonwilliams from the blogTO Flickr pool, middle one from TorontoBeach.ca

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