Toronto Beaches: Marie Curtis Park Beach
Marie Curtis Park Beach is exactly what a local park and beach should be - a convenient, free, accessible resource for anyone and everyone who lives in the area. It is probably also the last true neighbourhood beach left in Toronto.
Unless you live near the Toronto-Mississauga border, it is unlikely that you have been to Marie Curtis Park. It is at the very end of the Queen streetcar line at the bottom of a residential street in the Long Branch area.
The local-ness of Marie Curtis Park is its greatest appeal. You can watch the Etobicoke Creek as it drifts sleepily into Lake Ontario. You can explore some nature trails and wooded paths. If you're lucky, you find ice cream at the truck parked in the eastern lot.
It's a shame that Marie Curtis Park has water quality problems. The Etobicoke Creek carries contaminated runoff from urbanized areas upstream. The G.E. Booth sewage treatment plant that operates right next door probably doesn't help matters (Yup, it smells sometimes). In the last year, Marie Curtis Park Beach failed 42 water quality tests - more than any other beach in Toronto.
The park does have its charms. Its woods are home to 150 different plant species and 58 different species of bird, while the off-leash area gives dogs a place to run around. The playground provides top-notch entertainment for young children, and an 1803 Scottish-built cannon guards over the beach.
All of these pleasures were born from a tragedy. In 1954, Hurricane Hazel swept from Africa across the Caribbean, over the Carolinas, and then onto Southern Ontario. The hurricane killed nearly 1200 people, including 81 in Toronto and 7 in Long Branch.
Several rivers including the Etobicoke flooded their banks, uprooting homes and threatening to wash people away. The reeve of the Long Branch, Marie Curtis, stated that "If it hadn't been for the trees, which held the houses back, half of them would have been swept out into the lake."
The government expropriated 192 properties in the floodplain and created Marie Curtis Park. Named for the reeve who recognized the value of a naturalized waterfront, the park also has the distinction of being one of the very few public beaches in North America named after a female community leader.
An ongoing restoration project by the Toronto and Region Conservation Authority is supposed to add new facilities to Marie Curtis Park, improve fish habitat and fishing access, and deter some of the park's less desirable nighttime visitors. Putting an end to the sewage pollution that plagues the beach is likely to take a bit longer.
Marie Curtis Park is not the kind of place you save for a special occasion. It is a everyday place for the people who live nearby--the community space at the end of your street where you go as often as possible to savour an evening. It is the backdrop for everyday life. That is what makes Marie Curtis Park Beach so special.
Number of days closed due to water quality problems since June 1 2011: 42
Sand quality: Mix of sand and stone
Trails: Short walking paths through the wooded area, strolling paths along Etobicoke Creek, short boardwalk, and connection to the Waterfront Trail
Facilities: Washrooms nearby
Directions: Take Queen Street car to Long Branch Loop or GO Train to Long Branch Station. Walk south on Forty Second street.
Aggressiveness of seagulls and geese (out of 3): 1 (usually messy, but under control right now thanks to a bird management program).
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.
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