Hello, summer: These 8 Toronto beaches scored top marks for clean water this year

Torontonians don’t have to leave the city this summer to find pristine water and clean sand. 

Eight of the city’s beaches have once again received Blue Flag Canada certification — an annual award given out based on water quality and environmental management. 

Also guaranteed at a Blue Flag beach: seaweed and vegetation left undisturbed, washrooms and litter receptacles, carefully monitored wildlife habitats, and more than 33 other criteria. 

We’re seeing that people are really looking for access to water when they get outdoors. And so the Blue Flag is a clear indication that here’s a spot where you can go to with your family,” said Mark Mattson.

“It gives you that extra assurance that this is a great place and you’re going to have a great experience by the water.” 

Mattson is the president of Swim Drink Fish, a non-profit that’s operated the Blue Flag Canada awards since May of last year. 

Toronto’s Blue Flag beaches in 2021 are: 

  • Bluffer’s Park Beach.

  • Centre Island Beach.

  • Cherry Beach.

  • Gibraltar Point Beach.

  • Hanlan’s Point Beach.

  • Kew-Balmy Beach.

  • Ward’s Island Beach.

  • Woodbine Beach.

Physical distancing at city beaches

For now, Ontario remains under a stay-at-home order as part of COVID-19 restrictions, with the city reminding residents to maintain physical distancing from people outside their own household as they visit parks and beaches for outdoor exercise. 

Some smaller beach communities in Ontario have also put out warnings asking non-residents not to drive in to visit beaches.

The current stay-at-home order is scheduled to last until May 19, and Toronto beaches are set to open for the season in June. 

First Toronto marina makes the cut 

Toronto’s Royal Canadian Yacht Club has also become the first marina in the city to be recognized by Blue Flag Canada. 

Thanks to some passionate advocacy inside the club, “it’s been something that came together in the last two or three years,” said Jamie Keating, a past commodore and the current chair of the RCYC board. 

Keating says they were already meeting a number of criteria, including having an emergency system for spills and using reusable water bottles at events. 

This past year, they were able to bring the club the rest of the way — and they hope other Toronto marinas will follow. 

I think a lot of us who value being on the water have gotten a much better awareness around making sure we preserve that. So I’d be very surprised if the others, as they become more and more aware of the opportunity, don’t sign up for it.” 

You can check out the full list of Blue Flag criteria for beaches and marinas here. 

Five previous winners no longer certified 

Five Ontario beaches that were recognized in 2020 are notably absent from this year’s list — but Mattson says that’s more a reflection of the constraints introduced by the pandemic rather than of a drop in water quality or cleanliness. 

“It’s been very hard to get a lot of the engagement work done, or to get a lot of the volunteers out on the beaches to do the validation,” he said. 

Outlet Beach at Sandbanks Provincial Park is one of the five Ontario beaches that were recognized in 2020, but not this year. 

“Sandbanks has great water quality,” said Mattson. “It’s just been hard for those communities to do the application this year.”

Outlet Beach at Sandbanks Provincial Park was taken off the list this year. The beach is shown here in 2019, when rising floodwaters forced staff to turn away visitors. Mattson says the park’s water quality is excellent this year. (Frédéric Pepin/CBC)

Mattson says the pandemic’s overall impact on the province’s beaches has been a mixed bag.

On the one hand, there is less water data being collected overall, he says, meaning that this year will always have an “asterisk” that goes alongside it. 

He finds optimism, however, in the renewed interest he sees in exploring local beaches and shorelines. 

“We have this a whole new generation and people who haven’t been to the water before, that I think are beginning their journey to become the voice for the water in the future.” 

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