Canada’s Sugar Beach, a manmade sliver of sand at the foot of Jarvis Street, had its grand opening today. With its prime downtown location and its free amenities, there’s plenty to like about this new warm-weather hangout. Less likable is the fact that it’s opening only a few weeks before the start of September—though its nine-month construction cycle was nearly over by the beginning of July, and canny locals have been using the place for at least a month.
A private security guard was patrolling Sugar Beach on Saturday, two days before the opening. He said he’d had no instructions to prevent people from bypassing the ineffectual chain-link fence that was then blocking the area off from Queen’s Quay East.
The guard was a Caribbean man. He told us he’d thought he was in for something at least a little similar to the coastlines of Jamaica when his superiors had told him he was being assigned to a beach. But this was different than he’d expected.
There isn’t any swimming at Sugar Beach. There’s a long drop to the surface of the lake, and the water is, in any case, considered unsafe for humans. The sand is perfectly fine, though. Imported from Ohio, it sits in a triangle-shaped depression that, nine months ago, was flat asphalt. There are pink fiberglass umbrellas in the sand, and a scattering of plastic Muskoka chairs. A pair of huge granite boulders with red and white stripes (to make them appear more sugary) sit in the middle of the lot with a kind of lazy, tortoise-like dignity. (They were imported from Quebec in pieces, and then glued back together.) The whole beach is surrounded by a promenade made of granite paving stones, and dotted with trees. There are in-ground, barrier-free water jets that spurt into the air at intervals. They might ultimately prove more useful than the similar ones in Yonge-Dundas Square, because Sugar Beach users who go near them, intentionally or otherwise, stand at least some chance of being in the mood to get wet.
On Saturday, the beach was breezy and tranquil.
Perhaps thirty people—including individuals, couples, and families—were there, soaking in the intermittent sun, or looking out over the lake, or at the empty dock of the Redpath Sugar Factory, which abuts the western edge of the beach, and from which the beach derived its name. To the east is a multi-storey office building: the newly completed headquarters of Corus Entertainment.
Arthur Nowicki, who bikes the waterfront’s Martin Goodman Trail for exercise, discovered the beach about a month ago, and was relaxing on Saturday in one of its Muskoka chairs before heading back to his west-end home. “This is my turnaround, now,” he said. Previously, he’d used Cherry Beach. “It’s nice that they’re improving this part of the waterfront.”
Jay Ashren and Ryan Carlsen, who’d come to Sugar Beach together, had heard about it from a friend of a friend. They agreed that it was nice, but complained that Redpath’s sugar boats occasionally blot out the sun.
Today’s grand opening was a far different scene. Waterfront Toronto, which spearheaded the beach’s construction as part of their ongoing waterfront revitalization effort, had hired a calypso band to serenade the crowd with steel drums. Shirtless beachgoers had been supplanted by executives in suits and reporters in shirtsleeves. Everyone seemed badly in need of a swim, but the only liquids on hand were free fruit smoothies, in keeping with the sucrose-saturated theme—and cartoonishly huge lollipops for the kids.
Jim Flaherty, Canada’s minister of finance, explained why the beach is officially known as Canada’s Sugar Beach (the “Canada’s” is cumbersome, so we dropped it after the first paragraph): “The reason for that is that most of the money came from Canada, from your taxes,” he said. Waterfront Toronto is funded by all three levels of government—municipal, provincial, and federal—but for the past two years the corporation has received particularly large federal contributions.
Glen Murray, MPP for Toronto-Centre, who lives just blocks away, praised the beach’s likely future effect on property values, which he believes will help build the area’s tax base “faster than inflation.”
Mayor Miller, who enjoyed himself after the event, took the podium to expound on the many advantages of bringing people, jobs, and transit to the waterfront. “The water’s edge must be for the people of Toronto,” he said.
“And imagine perhaps one day even swimming in Lake Ontario,” he continued, referring to the unswimmable waters below Sugar Beach. “Perhaps in another ten years we’ll be back here and doing just that.”
It still wouldn’t be anything like Jamaica. But at least Sugar Beach will always be convenient.
Photos by Michael Chrisman/Torontoist.