The height of beach popularity in Toronto was in the 1920s and 1930s. The TTC even offered a free streetcar shuttle to Sunnyside beach for children carrying a bathing suit and a towel. Imagine that.
As urbanization spread, development and a few poor planning decisions created barriers between residents and the water. As the public’s awareness of water quality problems grew, unfortunately, so did their fear of the lake.
But a beach renaissance is taking place.
Last week, the Great Lakes Beach Association held their 2014 conference in Toronto where a spectrum of beach monitors gathered: scientists, government representatives, educators, researchers, and health unit officials. And the level engagement was incredible.
Toronto’s best kept secret is how much we love our beaches.
Today, Toronto has 11 official beaches and three times as many hot-spots for paddling, rowing, sailing, and surfing. (We’re working to get those recreational spots monitored, just like beaches, but that’s another story.)
In 2011, we created the Swim Guide app to help Torontonians find clean beaches. Fast forward to three years later: we now monitor 6,500 beaches for 350,000 users in 4 countries.
Torontonians love of beaches inspired this.
And it’s the tip of the iceberg.
We are at a unique moment in Toronto’s history. There has never before been a time when our urban beaches could be both popular and clean. Urban beaches were already polluted in the heyday of the early 20th century. Water quality improved in many places around the millenium, but the public was scared off by horror stories of rashes, illness, and dead fish.
For the first time in history, we have the science, the technological know-how, and the cultural appreciation for our watersheds to restore and defend our beaches.
For the first time in history, our urban beaches are ready to thrive.