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TORONTO BEACH CITY X
Sugar Beach's conjunction of post-industrial site and lighthearted landscaping makes the place feel like a bit of a fiction – as though you could go back one day and find it was all a mirage.

The tenth in a summer series of dispatches taking the pulse of Toronto’s beach culture. Previously: Marie Curtis Park East Beach. SUGAR BEACH Accessed: Tuesday, August 16, via bicycle on the Waterfront Trail. Temperature: 29C, sunny Supplies: Like You’d Understand Anyway, by Jim Shepard, camera Water Quality: No water access In his story ‘Pleasure Boating in Lituya Bay,’ Jim Shepard describes an Alaskan coast ripped to shreds by a tidal wave so massive only the gods could’ve sent it. Shepard’s description is so vivid that within a few sentences you feel the claustrophobia of the darkening sky, hear the thunder of the wave as it builds, see the water as it crests over the hill, cheek-to-cheek with the rumbling clouds. It’s terrifying and majestic, and accounts for how I found myself cowering in the shadow of the Redpath refinery last Tuesday, wondering what might be coming up behind it. Of course, there’s little danger of tsunamis on Lake Ontario. And Sugar Beach, with its lack of lake access, cutesy pink umbrellas and candy-striped granite rocks, is perhaps our safest and snappiest beach. Tucked between Diamond and Schmitt’s controversial Corus Quay building and the old Redpath sugar refinery, it’s the youngest of Toronto’s two urban beaches, having just turned one on August 9. Designed by Montreal’s Claude Cormier Architectes Paysagistes, in association with The Planning Partnership, the federally funded park is made up of three linked spaces: the sandy beach, a plaza area, and a walkway lined with mature maple trees that thrive thanks to silva cell technology. In spite of the Paris Plage feel, Sugar Beach is a revitalized public space whose past is still very visible. The conjunction of post-industrial site and lighthearted landscaping makes the place feel like a bit of a fiction, like you could go back one day and find it was all a mirage. Earlier this month, I spent a week at a cottage in Taylor Head Provincial Park, on Nova Scotia’s eastern shore. We arrived a few hours after a big storm had blown through, drastically changing the character of the beach. Instead of soft sand and a sparkling and frigid Atlantic, we found dark red waves crashing the shore, leaving behind hundreds of dead moon jellyfish. The water was warm, and coursed down from upstream to stripe the beach with wide channels you couldn’t see the bottom of. Framed by a young forest emerging in the aftermath of Hurricane Earl, the scene at the beach, like Shepard’s Alaskan landscape, was raw, post-apocalyptic: we spent most of the week hiding inside with a crib board. Spending the afternoon at the Sugar Beach oasis was a nice change of pace. Even at 2:30 pm on a Tuesday afternoon, the former parking lot was packed with hormonal teenagers, iPad-wielding loners and keyed-up kids. In spite of their forced proximity with others –the park covers only two acres – most of the folks filling the beach’s 150 chairs seemed to be on the hunt for privacy. Though everyone at one time or another looked like they were a bit surprised to be there, the atmosphere was convivial and playful, if not exactly relaxed. Being at Sugar Beach on a hot August day is a bit like being under a magnifying glass: the only way to escape the heat is on the splash pad, if you dare to brave the caterwauling children. In a review of the beach published last year, the Star‘s Christopher Hume highlighted the site’s choreographic views: from your recycled-plastic Muskoka chair you can watch the systematic movements of ships unloading goods to the refinery. Done with that? Switch to the lake where, to the east, wind- and kite-surfers cut through the water in chaotic zigzags. Small as it may be, Sugar Beach is a place where watching people is unavoidable. As is the case at HtO Park, without the interaction provided by water access, you’re left to sit and observe as the city unfolds. When I’d spent enough time with Shepard’s romantic Russian astronauts, parched Outback explorers and vasectomy-considering husbands, I packed up and headed the way to Queens Quay. It was suppertime and clouds were gathering, but the beach and plaza were still packed. Walking down the promenade, I noticed quite a few more shiny-bodied folks than I’d remembered coming in. As I shook the sun fog from my brain, I realized they were extras, populating the beach for a scene from the CBC show Being Erica. I don’t know if the beach plays itself in the scene (you can bet all the knee sock-wearing videogame guys had gone by then), but the extras played real beachgoers in my afternoon. And watching the scene unfold from the same angle as the camera, I could almost believe in the fiction.

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