This marks the first of a series of dispatches taking the pulse of Toronto’s beach culture. Yes, we said beach culture. WARD’S ISLAND BEACH Accessed: Saturday, May 28, 3 pm. Bicycle, Ward’s Island ferry. Supplies: Blanket, crackers, hummus, Malivoire Ladybug ros, strawberries, strawberry slicer, plastic glasses, camera, Sally Gibson’s More than an Island: A History of the Toronto Island, extra sweater. Temperature: 18 degrees Celsius. Partly cloudy. Soundtrack: Patsy Cline, Greatest Hits. As a teenager growing up in Montreal, I watched Street Legal with some bemusement. The location of the team’s law office, near the corner of Queen West and Soho, was as unfamiliar to me as the farthest corner of Irkutsk. I felt I should recognize the city somehow, but I hadn’t cultivated the same level of intimacy with Toronto that I had with other small-screen cities. The ferry ride that left-leaning trial lawyer Leon Robinovitch took to and from his home on Ward’s Island everyday made the shape of Toronto even more difficult to fathom. I couldn’t be convinced that the Toronto Leon lived in even existed. It just seemed too idyllic. When I reluctantly moved to Toronto several years later, my best friend Stphanie, a fervent Torontophile and fellow Street Legal aficionado, invoked the Islands and their beaches as one of the city’s prime offerings. I scoffed. Her love of the city, of the Islands and their beaches seemed forced, like a vegan insisting they love soy cheese. We lived in three different Torontos, Leon, Stphanie and I, and I found it difficult to reconcile my idea of the city with theirs. In the intervening years, I’ve grown fond of the city in all its incarnations, and become fascinated by its beaches most of all. Sadly, after having played a leading role in that developing appreciation for more that seven years, Stphanie moved to Montreal last week. The Saturday before she left, a group of friends and I gathered at Ward’s Island Beach to give her a proper Toronto beach goodbye. Ward’s beach is on the island’s south side, near the Eastern Gap. Many in our group had never been to the beach at Ward’s; we fielded repeated calls from Hanlan’s, and Stphanie spent a lot of time standing in the middle of the beach waving her arm in the air. But Ward’s beach is my favourite of the Islands’ beaches. It’s less busy than Hanlan’s and Centre Island. Save for the Leslie Spit to the east, there’s no sign of the city from its shores. It also consistently boasts the cleanest water of all the city’s beaches. Ward’s Island is home to one of Toronto’s oldest residential communities, and was named after the Ward family, who first settled there about 1830. In the 1880s, many of the city’s wealthy families built grandiose Victorian summer homes along Lake Shore Avenue, while the Wards ran a hotel on the bay side of the Island that was so successful they soon added a ballroom and a shooting gallery to entertain their guests. Otherwise, Ward’s has tended to be the most tranquil of the islands. The tent community here was smaller than the one on Algonquin Island, and Ward’s was never home to the extracurricular activities that could be found on Centre Island or Hanlan’s Point. Having spent most of the month of May soggy and discomfited, the prospect of a beach day, no matter the temperature, felt like a free pass. There was much to-and-froing prior to the party about whether or not it would in fact take place at the beach, but the hardiest tent-pitchers won, and came armed with tarps, rain gear and waterproofed snacks. Some folks, myself included, dressed for the weather of their imagination. And some bailed altogether, opting instead fo a College St. patio. Despite the overcast skies, the beach was hopping. Our group was defended on all fronts by a crescendo of damp dogs that peaked with Jackie, a 100-lb Bouvier sporting an imposing sandy beard. Further down the beach, a group of young Colombian men willingly submerged themselves in the chilly lake. Beside us, a co-ed party with a high beard quotient built an enormous bonfire, warming things up as the sun set. The talk of the day, however, was the couple by the volleyball nets. They dry-humped their way through most of the afternoon, before moving on to full-on intercourse once the pensive strollers had called it a night. It was hard not to stare: I found myself imagining it was Leon Robinovitch and his wife, Justice Alana Newman Robinovitch, going at it under the volleyball net, but it just didn’t seem right – beach sex would’ve been more of a Chuck Tchobanian thing to do. We packed it in when it got so cold we could see our breath. The bonfire was in an impressive free burn, given how wet the wood must have been, and the dry wood was still getting some action too. Stphanie was reluctant to go. When you leave a place, it stops changing in your imagination – some edges get harder, not softer, as your mind reinforces selective memories, and the city becomes less like itself. The inverse is true, too: it’ll be harder for me to fathom the shape of the city without Stphanie here. Luckily, while Montreal may have its mountain, its bike lanes and its cinq–septs, it’s got nothing on our beaches.