beaches tapped for North America's first safe-swimming program
By Noah Love
Canoe C-News, Canada
Published June 30th, 2004
TORONTO (CP) - Despite their long-standing public image
as polluted and dangerous, half of the beaches in Canada's
most populous city have been tapped to apply for a coveted
European "eco-label" awarded to the world's safest
The European Blue Flag label is currently flown on 2,900
beaches and marinas in 24 countries around the world,
part of a Denmark-based program that uses 27 different
environmental markers to identify safe swimming spots.
But the fact that seven beaches along the shore of the
notoriously dirty Lake Ontario are considered worthy of
the Blue Flag is raising eyebrows in a city where polluted
beaches have become part of Toronto lore.
"It looks cleaner than usual, but I wouldn't let
my kids swim in it; I wouldn't let my dog swim in it,"
said Natalie Marmer, 33, during a visit Wednesday to Beaches
Park, which ranked seventh on Toronto's safe list and
which will likely be teeming with tourists and vacationers
for the Canada Day holiday.
"It's been known to be polluted for so long. I was
born and raised in Toronto and I've been told not to swim
in the water for so long, I would never swim here."
The seven beaches identified by the environmental group
Environmental Defence to be worthy of the Blue Flag will
be the first in North America to apply for the label this
fall. They must pass tests conducted by a Canadian jury,
and the head office in Denmark makes the final decision.
If all goes well, the flags will be flying over those
beaches that pass the test by next summer - just the start
of what Sarah Winterton, Environmental Defence's program
director, hopes will be a flurry of blue flags across
"Ideally, we'll be expanding the program over the
next few years so that we can have a consistent message
about beaches across Canada," Winterton said.
To fly a Blue Flag, a beach has to meet 27 strict criteria
in areas like water quality, environmental management,
"Toronto has the most rigorous water monitoring
program in Ontario," said Mike Price, general manager
of water and wastewater services for the city.
Environmental Defence is working with the city to ensure
that the remaining standards are met, including providing
information on natural areas, creating additional opportunities
for environmental education and improving access to emergency
On Wednesday, the city was warning swimmers away from
only three of the city's 14 beaches - Sir Casimir Gzowski
and Sunnyside in the west end and Bluffer's Park in the
The move will give the Blue Flag program its first presence
in North America despite being used widely in Europe,
South Africa, and recently the Caribbean.
But it would surely be a boon to Toronto's oft-maligned
beaches, which have been plagued for years with pollution
problems, including chronic E. coli contamination and
infestations of zebra mussels.
Winterton acknowledged that overcoming the image of Toronto's
beaches will not be easy. But the bottom line, she said,
is that they're safe.
"As an independent third party monitoring the water
quality, we're able to say that we've done the study,
and these beaches are good," she said.
"The city is engaged in a rigorous water monitoring
program, so they always know what's happening in terms
of water quality at the beaches."
Indeed, there are those in Toronto who have long known
where to go for the safest swim.
"I trust the quality of the water," said Terry-Lynn
Gyory, 29, who routinely goes for a dip at the city's
top-ranked spot, Clarke Beach, formerly known as Cherry
"I've been coming here for years and we've never
had any problems."
The mother of two said she reads water quality indexes
on the Internet before deciding which beach to take her
kids to during the summer - and not all of them are up
to standard, most notably Ashbridge's Bay, which is also
home to a long-controversial sewage treatment plant.
"When we go to Ashbridge's Bay, we only let the
kids go in up to their knees."