Where is the best spot to go swimming in the lake? Jonathan Stokes
After learning the charms of the lake, you will have little time for anyone who tries to crack a joke about growing a third arm.


My favourite spot to go swimming in Lake Ontario is the beach at Bluffers Park, in Scarborough. The 20-story white bluffs tower over the water and are an incredible sight, equal parts comforting and pleasantly exotic. But the best part about swimming at the bluffs is how sandy the lake bottom is here. With no need to worry about stepping on a rock, you wade out with a mind on other things. And the endless sand has another virtue: it keeps the water very clear. The absence of rocks means there are no little crevices for algae or sea-grasses to cling too; none of this stuff means that very little particulate clouds the water. Seeing through to the bottom and around your body assuages many a wary lake newbie (me, once). Which isn't to say there isn't aquatic life here. In 2009, an 11 year-old boy caught a 35lb Chinook Salmon just off the beach.

Why is the beach so much clearer and sandier here than elsewhere? To the west of the city, the Humber river flows out, and from this deposition the lake bottom is mucky and there are lots of boulders which hurt the feet. The part of the waterfront that lies directly south from the downtown of the city, from the Islands to Cherry Beach, is quite sandy, but this shoreline is not natural (it used to be many metres to the north) and much of it is made up of infill from construction sites and demolition waste. The whole of the enormous outcrop of the Leslie Street Spit is a human construction. Which is why at Cherry Beach it's not uncommon to reach into the water to pick up a stone for skipping and discover that it is actually a brick.

The bluff beach is far from intensive development. Its sand is a combination of fine sand that the city has trucked in to stabilize the base of the bluffs plus chalk erosion from the bluffs themselves. A geological map of the underwater topography shows that this area is a brief stretch of sand plain before the lake becomes rocky and boulder-strewn again. The towering bluffs are loosely packed and it's not uncommon to see small dusty landslides. It was sand from these that migrated in the lake current and formed the Toronto Islands. The bluffs hold other mysteries too. It's been said that if you put your ear against the wall of a bluff you can hear the sand and dirt moving and shifting inside. A friend tells me that he has found impressive trilobite fossils just under the chalk surface. Some more recent history: in 1813 British sentries up on the bluff spotted a fleet of American vessels and used signal guns, a flagpole, and a mounted sentry to warn the town that invasion was imminent. Now visitors just come for the swimming.


Worried about water quality? There's an app for that. The city tests sites daily and posts the results both at the beach and online. In the last three years, this beach has only been closed for three days. Bluffer’s Park Beach has well-maintained bathroom facilities, picnic areas, and walking paths. There is parking but not enough for the crowds. Come early, or go late. Bring material for a fire if you go in the evening.

How to get there:
Kingston Road and Brimley Road. Vehicles can enter Bluffer’s Park by travelling south on Brimley Road to its end point. By public transportation, take the eastbound Kingston Road 12 bus from Victoria Park station. Get off at the Kingston Road at Brimley Road bus stop. It is a ten minute walk south on Brimley Road from the bus stop to the park. That's a ten minute walk downhill. Going back up, expect more like an hour, it's a long and steep incline.

Additional Info

  • Subtitle: Hands down, the answer is the Scarborough Bluffs.
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