Not any more

Sugar Beach is one refined place

In Canada on August 13, 2010 at 19:38

Sugar Beach opened this week at the foot of Jarvis, and I all I can say is, what a beach. Sort of. If you haven’t visited this sparkling waterfront gem, you should, because it may just be David Miller’s greatest achievement as mayor. It is, unfortunately, marred by a single flaw – namely, that its name is misleading to the point of fraud. But never mind that for now, because I have a quick and easy – not to mention refreshing – solution.

First, let me tell you about the moment I experienced this past Wednesday, which took place at approximately 9:42 a.m.

The sun was shining. A tugboat was chugging merrily through the harbour, pushing a barge through gentle chop. I stood up and walked toward the water and looked out across at the Toronto Islands, where yachts, denuded of their sails, bobbed cozily. Further east, three large ships were being relieved of their cargo.

Turning around, I took in the skyline and was struck by the following thought: First Canadian Place actually looks better with scaffolding on it, which sits atop it like some kind of futuristic metallic crown and makes the epic white rectangle beneath it seem worth it. Overhead, a Porter plane whined by – headed for Ottawa, by the looks of things. A breeze was blowing. I walked back to my Muskoka chair and slumped into it. Across from me, a superbly tanned man with blond hair was reclined in his own Muskoka chair and taking his chances with skin cancer. A seagull screeched. I took off my sandals and dug my feet into the sand.

They got the little things right at Sugar Beach – and by “they,” I mean the firm of Claude Cormier Landscape Architects. The sand is a smooth powdery beige flecked with tiny bits of quartz. The boardwalk is made from a dark tropical hardwood called ipe (rhymes with “eBay”) that is as durable as it is pleasing to look at. Best of all are the beach umbrellas, which aren’t actual umbrellas. They’re more like tall metal umbrella statues and they so perfectly capture the form of the umbrella that to look at them to be reminded of the sound of an umbrella opening.

And now the problem: Sugar Beach is not a beach. The word “beach” connotes water lapping sand. You expect to walk barefoot and look back at your trail of disappearing foot impressions. At Sugar Beach, what you find is a forbidding retaining wall and a sign that says “no swimming.” Sugar Beach, it turns out, isn’t a beach so much as a “beach.” It’s a postmodern park with beach references – sand, umbrellas, a boardwalk, even lifebuoys.

When you spend the morning with visions of getting in up to your knees, this comes as something of a letdown. I’m not sure, furthermore, if Sugar “Beach” is a place anyone will want to take kids. Sandcastles will be, at best, a challenge, and moats, artificial ponds and the like impossible. A five-year-old will say to Mummy – at high volume, over and over again – “but you said it was a beach,” while her toddler younger brother sets out on a suicide mission to check out the retaining wall.

Adults may feel similarly underwhelmed. Just as Torontonians expect their parks to have grass, they expect their beaches to have water. There’s a risk that Sugar Beach, which is small to begin with, will suffer the same fate as Yorkville Park (or the even more po-mo HTO Park) – lauded by design types, but underappreciated by everyone else.

And now the solution: alcohol. Before anyone calls the morality squad, you should know they do this sort of thing in Europe all the time. You’ll be walking along in a park in, say, Brussels when you come upon a little stand selling hot waffles dusted in icing sugar and frosty half pints of Stella. Miraculously, this doesn’t result in spontaneous brawls and mass prostitution. Instead, people sit down and have a drink, maybe two. Would a half-pint of Mill Street Tankhouse Pale Ale or Steam Whistle be so much to ask?

Actually, I have an even better idea. Sugar “Beach” is right next to the Redpath Sugar Factory. If you point your Muskoka chair directly west, you find yourself staring at the warehouse where the sugarcane is stockpiled. As it happens, there’s another substance you can make from sugar cane that’s as sweet and even more delicious than sugar. Hint: it rhymes with bum.

Now picture this: It’s evening. The sun is sinking somewhere out over Milton and you’re sitting in a Muskoka chair watching gulls fly overhead. You hear the sound of a ferry blast its horn and then take a sip of locally produced Toronto rum. Sugar Beach still wouldn’t be a beach. But it would be perfect.

Special to The Globe and Mail


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