Sweet beach

Posted on August 12th, 2010 2 great comments. Room for one more!

With the weather being so hot lately, I’m sure almost every Torontonian has though, at least for a moment, of daring a dip in Lake Ontario. Okay, yeah, at times it might smell like rotting corpses, but it might be refreshing.

Unfortunately for me, getting anywhere near the water either meant a slog out west to the man-made beach near Bathurst and Queen’s Quay, or east to Cherry Beach, home of the sandy syringe.

For a while there were rumours of a new faux beach being constructed near my neck of the woods at the foot of Lower Jarvis —  Sugar Beach — but this was, after all, a government project and the expected summer 2010 completion date couldn’t be trusted.

And then, in a sure sign that the universe is soon to end, I heard on my morning radio show that Sugar Beach was open for business. So I put on my most elegant thong, grabbed a towel, and headed down.

On the way there I couldn’t help but hearken back to Toronto’s past — how people used to refresh themselves in the waters of Lake Ontario, in style, and with class.

Prior to the forties it was considered improper to wade out into the lake, clothed or otherwise. The practice referred to as “wetting Willy” (William being a common name), being heavily frowned upon.

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In fact, even walking in the rain without a “Jimmy Hat” (another popular name), would likely get one ostracised.

These days, no one bats an eyelash at even the most obscene public display of flesh.

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Back in the day, the only acceptable way to enjoy the waters was in a canoe known as the “Long John”. It was common to spend an afternoon racing with friends, paddling one’s Long John until “a mighty foam frothed at her head”.

Ironically, it would be years until women were welcomed to the activity – even the deck hand who swabbed your vessel would be a man.

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Anyone wetting Willy without paddling a Long John or displaying their seafaring affiliation would be told to “beat it” off the beach lest they wished a taste of the policeman’s night stick.

Nowadays, it seems, they’ll let any old dirty dog on the beach with narry a copper in sight.

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In the past, police patrolled beaches regularly, warning people of the omnipresent danger of crabs, the potential of infected gashes, and other hazards as part of the public Sandy Traps and Dangers (STD) program.

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A mere decade later, “freeing Willy” became all the rage. Police no longer beat anyone off the beach and Long Johns were mostly relegated to enthusiast seamen.

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The only shipping one’s likely to see at Sugar Beach these days is the massive Redpath container ship bringing in raw sugar to be processed in the giant refinery across the way. Oh sure the air may literally taste sweet when the ships unload their cargo, but does that sweeten the otherwise putrid stench of modern humanity baking in the sun?

Although the historical STD program was scrapped, Jimmy Hats have stuck around with modern names like raincoats, slicks, rubbers, or simply just protection — yet standing under a drizzle is hardly considered deviant anymore; neither is getting pounded by the waves — you just grab a board and ride them!

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Modern urban beaches try to make up for the absence of decency with fancy abstract art. But letting women swim in the water? With their monthly … cycles?!

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Adoption to aquatic activities by women was swift – like fish to water, one might say. Numerous all-female Long John paddling teams were formed, among them famous first-place trophy winners the Omely Oars, named after team captain Harriete Homely (the “H” was dropped in a playful take on her British heritage).

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Okay, maybe I’m going a bit overboard. It’s not like you can swim at Sugar Beach anyway. On the south end is a narrow boardwalk and then a drop into the lake and busy shipping lanes. On the east is the Redpath sugar refinery and yet another steep drop into fishy waters. To the north is a road, and to the west is the new Corus Entertainment building.

The sand is there, as are the deck chairs and the fixed umbrellas, but that refreshing dip in the lake is absent. The option to endure painful blisters after a swim is simply not there, so calling it a beach might be a bit of a stretch. In fact, the only access to water of any kind comes via a series of sidewalk-embedded jets that the kids monopolize.

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But, as a place to hunker down with a book for a few hours, or as a place to bury your feline business, it’s not too bad. And if there’s a more appropriate place to sun my flossed butt cheeks in Toronto, I haven’t found it!

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2 Comments on “ Sweet beach ”

  • Melanie
    August 13th, 2010 12:04 am

    I read about the ummm lack of swimming in Toronto harbor or really in that entire lake in a travel guide about Toronto. No thank you! It's pretty hot here in Michigan, too, but we're dealing pretty well. :P Found your blog from CMFAds spikes. Nice read. :)

    Read more from Melanie at: http://www.shygirlspeaks.com
  • Patrick
    August 13th, 2010 11:26 am

    Thanks, Melanie. Had a bit of a bumpy time there for a couple of months but hopefully TCL's getting back on track. Glad you're enjoying!

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