Blue Times Two Natalie Rae Dubois

When the mercury rises, those of us without air conditioning (i.e. students) scramble to find a reprieve from the heat. Our campus provides us with some little havens, in the form of air-conditioned libraries, and scattered small parks and courtyards. But when even these spaces can’t keep us cool, the waterfront is the choice destination for many.

While the Toronto islands are a beautiful escape from the sweat and the city, they are prone to overcrowding and the trip will cost you ferry fare at least (not to mention the overpriced food and drink vendors). There are two new free and easily accessible parks along the East lakeshore that many students haven’t heard of yet: Sugar Beach and Sherbourne Common.

These two public spaces are part of the revitalization of Toronto’s ‘blue edge,’ or waterfront. Officially opened last summer, both projects provide a variety of spaces to sit, play and cool down while incorporating sustainable features, ensuring that these spaces not only look good but do good too. In fact, Sherbourne Commons boasts the first park in Canada to include a neighbourhood stormwater treatment facility in its design.

Sugar Beach

Aptly named because of the Redpath Sugar refinery across the Jarvis Slip, Sugar Beach lies at the foot of Jarvis Street along the lakeshore. Designed by Claude Cormier Architectes Paysagistes in association with The Planning Partnership, its iconic and pop-playful pink beach umbrellas easily identify this new urban space. Made of double-shell fiberglass, their simple and safety-oriented design conceals LED lights that illuminate the beach at night. Large deck chairs and pale sand line the water’s edge. The park consists of more than the (wheelchair accessible) beach, however: granite rock outcroppings painted in candy-coloured stripes, a tree-lined promenade and water feature in the shape of a maple leaf completes the picture. When the heady smell of burnt sugar dust wafts over this delightful park, it’s truly a sweet spot to be.

Sherbourne Commons

Sherbourne Commons, just to the east of Sugar Beach at the bottom of Sherbourne Street, carries on the playful vibe, albeit with a different set of elements. This park is larger than Sugar Beach, starting at the lakeshore and continuing north beyond Queen’s Quay to Lakeshore Boulevard.

A quirky metal pavilion (containing surprisingly beautiful public washrooms), a winding man-made river with concrete ‘banks’, a series of planted water basins, and a dramatic water feature all work together not only to provide delight, but to treat stormwater for the soon-to-be developed neighbourhood along the East Donlands. Stormwater is treated in an ultraviolet (UV) facility in the basement of the Pavilion before it’s pumped through the series of water works and back out into Lake Ontario.

Water fountains and a splash pad (which becomes a skating rink in winter), benches nestled in tall grasses, and a new playground round out the park’s features.

Designed by a trio of landscape architects (Phillips Farevaag Smallenberg), architects (Teeple Architects and The Planning Partnership) and an artist (Jill Anholt), Sherbourne Commons is a perfect example of the kind of design excellence this city is capable of when people put their heads together.

Whimsical and functional, Sugar Beach and Sherbourne Common are perfect for whiling away hot summer days on a student’s shoestring budget. But these spaces also provide a glimpse into the future of what kind of city Toronto can become, or was on track to become pre-Rob Ford. A legacy of David Miller’s mayoralty, it seems doubtful that these types of projects will be approved during Ford’s reign of gravy-cutting terror. Indeed, innovation, sustainability and playfulness are likely not words in Ford’s vocabulary – nonetheless, these two parks have those qualities in spades.

Let Sugar Beach and Sherbourne Common serve as a beacon, a lighthouse on the shore during the dark waters of Ford’s time in power, gently guiding us towards a new vision for Toronto.

Additional Info

  • Subtitle: Two new public spaces along Toronto’s reinvigorated ‘blue edge’ provide a compelling alternative to the Islands and a model for future development in Toronto
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