On March 21, 2015, I led a workshop at Evergreen's Urban Watershed Festival held at the Brick Works. Entitled "5 Things You Need To Know for a Swimmable Summer," the workshop focused on helping recreational water users identify and address pollution problems that pose health and safety risks. By explaining water quality standards and rules that protect your right to swimmable water, water-lovers can safely enjoy summer along Toronto's waterfront.
A lot of freshwater flows by, through, and under Toronto. The city, more than any other in North America, is truly the freshwater capital.
We have 45km of shoreline (138km if you count the islands), criss-crossed by 300 km of rivers and creeks. We have 9 different watersheds in the GTA, fed by aquifers and surface water.
Toronto has a long history of using its waters for travel and sport. The Humber River was once the most important transportation route on Lake Ontario. Aboriginal people, then European traders canoed up and down the river to get to Lake Simcoe and Georgian Bay.
In the 1800s and 1900s, the city’s beaches were packed with people. In the 1930s, you could ride the streetcar for free if you had a bathing suit in your hand and were headed to Sunnyside Beach. The CNE hosted marathon swims, some as long as 34 kilometers. They drew huge crowds.
Even today, if you go to Woodbine Beach or Centre Island on a hot summer’s day, you will find thousands of people swimming in Lake Ontario. For most the year, the canoe clubs, kayak and rowing clubs, dragon-boaters, sailors, power boaters, SUP’ers and even surfers are out there enjoying Lake Ontario.
Toronto has one of the busiest recreational harbours in North America.
When you’re canoeing, you’re not just paddling around on the Humber River. You’re experiencing the same activity in the same place as thousands before you have experienced.
When you’re swimming in Lake Ontario and its watershed, you’re not just cooling off. You’re connecting to history and affirming this region's culture.