One of the easiest and most enjoyable ways to help protect your watershed is to simply experience it. Jump in the lake. Hike a local trail. Hop in a canoe and paddle. Connect with it.
Thousands of people manage to do this every year and we couldn't be happier to see that. But – that’s not enough.
Lake Ontario has beautiful, swimmable beaches. Yet the majority of Lake Ontario’s locals keep their distance.
With 9 million people relying on Lake Ontario for drinking water, the same 9 million people should be visiting its beaches – especially during a sweltering hot summer like this year's. But most of the lake’s beaches seem to be well-kept secrets. Those who know about them, love them. And those who hear about them for the first time scoff at the thought of visiting them.
Earlier this year, CBC’s Metro Morning interviewed this enthusiastic open water swimmer. Knowing the common myths that plague the public’s perception of the lake, Matt Galloway asked, “Aren’t you scared of getting sick?”
Kathleen responded, “I’m still here! I’m more scared of getting sick if I don’t swim!”
“I feel like people have a particular fear of water – that it’s scary or dirty. On the island, there are things floating in the water, sticks, leaves... It’s not the pristine water of a swimming pool. We’ve become oriented to a sterile environment. In open water, water moves. Bird feathers, tree branches – that’s not pollution. Pollution is what you cannot see; industrial sources, sewer overflow – that’s what makes you sick.”
Originally from Chicago, Kathleen is accustomed to being surrounded by beaches."Chicago has so many beaches. I think the lack of beaches in Toronto – the lack of access – has influenced people."
Kathleen admits it is challenging to get people living in urban centres to embrace their natural spaces as she does. But why is there such a strong disconnect between city living and the outdoors? When a Great Lake is your front yard, can’t you have both?
“There’s this idea that swimming happens in pools, or lovely lakes outdoors. Most people live in an urban setting, but we have the most amazing urban setting right here, right on this amazing body of water. Most people think that urban life means driving a car, eating in restaurants. But you can still have a relationship with your natural world. People say, ‘you’re so lucky to live on the island,’ and I know that, but it’s a place where anybody can come. It’s easy to get to.”
If you're waffling on the idea of taking the plunge in Lake Ontario, there couldn’t be a better time to do it. Summer is flying by and one of the best opportunities to finally get out there is just around the corner. This weekend, over 300 swimmers will dive in and go the distance at the 4th Annual Toronto Island Lake Swim.
If you’ve ever considered participating in an open water swim, this is the event you want to try. The Toronto Island Lake Swim welcomes all participants. All levels. Young and old. The event is for everyone.
“There’s a perception that open water swimming is competitive, and you have to keep your time. I’m so non-competitive. And I’m a slow swimmer. Anything that encourages people to be in the open water is a good thing. The best thing these events can do is to make it welcoming to the non-competitive.”
And if you needed more encouragement, the Toronto Island Lake Swim takes place at one of the city’s best beaches, Centre Island Beach!
As the official charity partner for the event, all of us at Waterkeeper would be honoured if one of your strongest memories of Lake Ontario was from participating in the Toronto Island Lake Swim. So come and celebrate Toronto’s swimmable water!
“For me swimming is spiritual and meditative. Not everybody will feel that, but I do. That’s why I do it.” But everyone’s experience with water is unique, as yours will be too.
And to those who choose to distance themselves from the lake? As Kathleen put it: “People don’t know what they’re missing.”