Hot and nowhere to go: swimming in an urban lake

I have lots of personal connections to water spots, from the sea in Athens where I learned to swim, to the pool in Toronto’s west end that I almost drowned in. But the place most important to me lately is the place I go to think, a rickety dock on Lake Ontario near my apartment in Toronto.

The city recently started a new program here, encouraging people to swim in the lake. Two summers ago my friends and I joined a bunch of kids in the lake, instead of going to the nearby Sunnyside Pool. It was crowded and didn’t look so hot, so we put our towels on the sand and decided to take a dip in Lake Ontario.

It was hilarious sitting in the water while ten year-olds ran around us screaming. One girl wearing a loose-fitting red t-shirt emerged from the water, an angry Loch Ness, grabbing at some nearby kids and cursing like a sailor (or a journalist). Another boy swimming underwater swam right into me, his head colliding with my bikini bottoms; it was a bit embarrassing. We were the old folks in this water.

Suddenly I heard a boy yell, “Eeeew, eeew.”

“Oh no”, I thought, “a dead body… or maybe a needle, or dog business.”

It was a fish. This kid thought it was nasty to find a fish swimming in his water. I’d like it if Toronto youth weren’t surprised by fish in the water – we want a living lake that supports all sorts of creatures! I’d love it if we showed more love for our beat-up portion of Lake Ontario. Despite our industrial past, the noise of cars passing by on the Gardiner, a barricade of downtown condos, and a love-it-or-hate-it Island Airport – our waterfront has some beautiful spots! Places like my thinking dock, or the Toronto Island beaches, a secret beach (can’t say where, it’s secret), the Scarborough Bluffs, and more, but I’ll have to save something for future posts.

Last summer my friend wanted to chill in the sun and since we were in our neighbourhood I said we should go to the lake. She had her doubts –Steph likes to visit pristine lakes in the summer on camping trips. But I insisted that we can’t get out of town every weekend (I rarely do), so let’s just enjoy what we have, right here in Toronto.

That’s when I realized loving Toronto’s Lake Ontario can be a bit of a tough sell. There were old plastic bottles along the sand and other bits of garbage. Inside the lake there was a gross amount of green algae everywhere and I started to wonder whether this day was a good day to swim. I hadn’t really registered whether it was a blue flag beach and what the deal was that day.

It’s not easy to appreciate water in urban spaces like Toronto, not in the same way that people appreciate their clear lakes far away from urban refuse. But I’ve gone into Lake Ontario since, mind you at another location. I even had my wedding ceremony for friends at the Gibraltar Point beach on Toronto Island last summer; many of us jumped into the water afterward. All cities are linked to water, so I do my best to enjoy the natural world in this reinterpreted space.

(Photo Credit: Gibraltor Point beach after my wedding ceremony for friends by: Mike Ruszczycki)

Tags: , , , , , , , , , ,

No comments yet.

Leave a Reply

[Read our comments policy here.We reserve the right to remove comments that are inappropriate.]