toronto humber coconut

Where do the coconuts at Sunnyside Beach come from?

A few years ago David Snaith was walking on the beach near Sunnyside with his young son when they came across a coconut washed up on the sand. It was intact, and showed no hint as to its origins.

"I'm from Australia, and a coconut washed on the beach isn't such a big deal, but this is Lake Ontario," he says. "I thought maybe someone threw it in the water somewhere and it washed up, so I didn't give it too much thought. A few weeks later I found another one."

In the years that followed, Snaith says he found about 10 unopened coconuts at various locations on the shore near the mouth of the Humber River.

"A few people I know who sail down there say they have found them as well ... it occurred to me that maybe a crate washed off a laker or something like that, but really I have no idea [where the coconuts are coming from.]"

There are records of coconuts travelling on ocean currents as far as Scotland and mainland Europe from the Caribbean, so it's not completely inconceivable that a small number may have slipped out of the Gulf Stream and down the St. Lawrence River.

The most likely answer, however, is somewhat less global in scale.

PortsToronto, the government authority that manages the Toronto harbour, suggested the fruit might be coming down the Humber River. On a map, the Humber Arboretum, a botanical garden on the West Humber River, looked the most likely source of non-native tree fruit, but the office there said the Canadian climate is too harsh for palms.

The Arboretum did, however, suggest the coconuts might be religious offerings.

For devout Hindus, floating coconuts down the river is a traditional way to deliver blessings.

In New York City in 2011, authorities mounted a campaign to discourage Hindus from leaving offerings--coconuts, saris, flags, and coins--in Jamaica Bay because of the negative effect on animals and plant life.

In the GTA, coconuts and flowers have turned up waterways other than the Humber. As a 2007 Toronto Star story notes, the Credit River has been a receptacle for religious offerings and even cremated remains in recent years, despite the efforts of the Toronto and Region Conservation Authority.

Sadly, it appears there's no tropical paradise hidden on the waters of Lake Ontario.

Follow Chris Bateman on Twitter at @chrisbateman.

Image: David Snaith.

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