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Toronto Beach City II
Its secluded location has given Cherry Beach a reputation as a notorious cruising spot. But these days it feels increasingly less tucked away.

The second in a series of dispatches taking the pulse of Toronto’s, um, beach culture. Last week: Ward’s Island Beach. CHERRY BEACH Accessed: Friday, June 3, 4 pm. Bicycle, via the Martin Goodman Trail. The beach is also accessible via the 72 bus. Supplies: Blanket, Vineland Estates Chardonnay, T&T sushi tray, camera, Cherry Beach Express, by R.D. Cain. Temperature: 23 degrees Celsius, sunny. Soundtrack: Human Highway, Moody Motorcycle. Byron Barwick and Tibor Nagy stand in front of the Toronto Windsurfing Club like a couple of toughs outside a smoke shop. Barwick is wearing a gold chain and a white undershirt tucked into jeans. Nagy is bare-chested. They’re talking about wind. How the wind at Cherry Beach used to come up from the south, but now blows in mainly from the northwest. Barwick says the best kind of wind for windsurfing is a southwest wind that comes in at around 10 knots. On days with that kind of wind, especially if they fall on Wednesday Race Nights, there can be up to 15 sails out on the lake, colourful specs that deke and duck like sparklers through a landscape of blue. Barwick and Nagy are members of the Toronto Windsurfing Club, a not-for-profit members’ association that was founded in the early 1980s, at around the same time as rumours were brewing that police officers from 52 Division were using the wooded area near Cherry Beach as an interrogation room. By the time Pukka Orchestra penned the lyrics to their 1984 single Cherry Beach Express – “You buzz out of the cruiser like bees from a hive/And ask me if I want to go for a drive/That’s why I’m riding on the Cherry Beach Express/My ribs are broken and my face is a mess/And my name on my statement signed under duress” – more than 300 windsurfers and kitesurfers were using the beach as a launch pad for the increasingly popular sport. Cherry Beach has long been what you could call a mixed-use area. Located at the foot of Cherry St., just south of Unwin Ave., it’s been a favourite spot for bathers since the 1930s, when it was known as Clarke Beach. Despite being located in what was once a heavily industrial area, it is one of eight Toronto beaches that recently earned a Blue Flag designation, an eco-label assigned to beaches that meet strict guidelines for water quality and environmental management. Cherry Beach’s secluded location has also given it a reputation as a notorious cruising spot. These days, though, it feels increasingly less tucked away. Waterfront Toronto’s utopian 2007 Lake Ontario Park draft concept plan reimagined the beach, and the whole area between the Eastern Gap and the R.C. Harris Filtration Plant, as a 374-hectare park comprised of boardwalks, recreational landscapes and eco-lookouts. However, only a few of the proposed improvements have so far been completed, including the construction of two new sports fields and a new trail to Cherry Point, some landscaping and a soil remediation project. Councillor Doug Ford’s recent criticisms of Waterfront Toronto’s spending habits has put the dream of Lake Ontario Park further into question for some. I got to Cherry Beach at 4 pm on a sunny Friday afternoon and set myself up on a cigarette butt-littered stretch of sand near the vacant lifeguard chair. Even with beach weather firmly in attendance, I was one of only a dozen or so people there. A few feet behind me, a thirty-something couple snuggled on a pink blanket. A Dermot Mulroney-lookalike with an impeccable six-pack suntanned nearby. Beside me, a boy named Nolan busily collected rocks while his mother and a friend discussed what to do about his verbally abusive father. Farther down the beach, two guys in their early 20s sat on separate beach towels listening to separate iPods. Not exactly the beach party I had hoped for. While Porter planes cruised overhead and a few kayakers ventured into the lake, the rest of us quietly kept to ourselves, maintaining at least ten feet of distance from each other. It wasn’t until I talked to Barwick and Nagy that I felt like the place had any life at all. Underlining the waterfront redevelopment plans is the belief that Toronto’s beaches need a makeover. Which begs the question: does our beach culture also need a makeover? But when I brought up Toronto’s beach culture with some of my fellow beachgoers, I felt like I was asking after the Ogopogo. The cuddlers, Leemor and Zack, drove all the way from Yonge and Sheppard to cuddle at Cherry, but they scoffed when I asked them to describe Toronto’s beach culture. The iPod boys, Shintaro and Andrew, were a bit more generous, suggesting that our beach culture might best be characterized as classic Toronto reserve. “I’d come here less often if it was more populated,” said Andrew. Even Byron Barwick admitted that he likes the removed nature of the beach; when I brought up Waterfront Toronto’s plans, he looked startled, then confused by the idea that his corner of the beach might be transformed. I didn’t talk to the tokers in the bushes or the guys drinking beers from the coolers in the trunks of their cars, but I’m going to bet they feel the same way. As I was preparing to leave, a gangly photographer named Adam sat down beside me and offered to show me the photo collection on his iPhone. A frequent attendee of Promise’s Cherry Beach Sunday Afternoons, dance parties held on the stretch of beach just east of the TWC, Adam had also been wandering the beach trying to strike up conversations with strangers. When I asked him what he thought of the plans for the area, he shook his head. “Who’s to say what’s right in Toronto? We’re all good people trying to live,” he said. It struck me as a platitude at first, but maybe there’s some truth to Adam’s version of things. People are protective of the places where they’ve carved out a home for themselves and their hobbies, and those uses might never coalesce into a unified beach culture. So, while it may not be all native shrubs, boardwalks and ice cream cones, whether you’re in the mood for cruising, sailing, surfing or rock-collecting, there’s probably a spot at Cherry Beach that’s perfect for you. If you’d like to learn more about windsurfing at Cherry Beach, Toronto Windsurfing Club will be hosting a season opener party on June 12. Click here for details. Related Toronto Beach City: Ward’s Island

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