Public Enemy: Boats at the Beach

A fine cottage-free weekend was spent by many on Toronto Island and in particular this city’s nicest beach, Hanlan’s Point. Each day had long lines for ferry tickets due to Wakestock, but once tickets were purchased the wait area was not crowded and boat boarding was easy. On Saturday some dramatic looking clouds kept the crowds away, while on Sunday there were upwards of 1000 people on the beach. A few of those Wakestockers wandered over from Centre Island and were sitting on the beach saying, over and over, “lookitthatgirl lookitthatgirl lookitthatgirl” while complaining they were wasting the $30 they paid for the event (yet conspicuously not in any hurry to leave the beach).

These photos were taken on the quieter Saturday. The water was (as usual) dominated by boats parked (too) close to the beach. It is the equivalent of parking an SUV in the middle of a park. If the boats were just floating there innocuously they would be tolerable — though some are a little too generous in the way they share their Margaritaville/Trance Techno sound-systems — but they aren’t harmless. When there are boats at the beach, the otherwise clean and clear water will be coated with an oily sheen. It’s extremely local pollution, and the culprits are sitting in their cabins above it all, while their boats leak what we joke is “special skin softening cream” into the water. On a quiet weekday or when weather keeps boats in their docks, the lake is back to its usual crystal condition.

Hanlan’s is one of the most popular beaches in Toronto and yet it doesn’t have those floating buoys that “rope off” the swimming area and keep the boats a reasonable distance from shore. All the boats in the above pictures are in water shallow enough to stand in (you can walk out quite far as there are big sandbars this year). On recent trips to beaches in Croatia and Malta I found that most popular beaches were roped off approximately 1/2 kilometer from shore, making for safe and clean swimming experiences. Interestingly, the northern non-clothing-optional part of Hanlan’s, where very few people actually go (relative to the crowds on the other side of the fence) has a lifeguard tower and a roped off area (and a rowboat that they use to tell people to back off) while the clothing optional part sees boats nearly beach themselves at times. The unregulated nature of Hanlan’s point is actually a nice thing and works just fine — it really is one of the finest expressions of Toronto’s urbane freedom that allows people to be whoever they feel like being and feel safe doing it — but a simple rope-and-buoy barrier keeping boats away would be ideal. Kayaks and canoes could get through (check the current issue of Spacing for the article on how easy it is to canoe to the island) and the boats will have the rest of the-entire-Great-Lake to mess about in.

TIP: As it was Wakestock Weekend, the line up for the ferry was busy (stretching to Captain John’s at one point) and chaotic (Wake-people with open cans of that Smirnoff stuff were cutting in line, causing a tense scene like the one I saw last year). If you go, don’t take the far right ticket line, as it’s the one people will try to slip into, and it is the Canadian thing to avoid conflict rather than take it head on. Take one of the middle lines (and check to see if that long long single line is funneling into all ticket wickets or not before you wait in it). Or better yet, stop by during the week when it isn’t busy and buy a book of tickets so you can bypass the line by taking the pre-paid entrance at the far left. And you can sell them to your friends, and they’ll be happy to buy them off you.

Finally, two nice finds. The new clocks and wayfinding signs found around the island are lovely and look as robust as public infrastructure should. Kudos to the Toronto parks department for doing a good job — or “Metro Parks” as these neat and sort of stained anachronistic “Metro Parks” life jackets found on the ceiling of the Wards Island ferry proclaim. Look at that great stencil font — probably the work of some poor summer student in the summer of ’84 or thereabouts.


  1. Ha — interesting. They are certainly “sweet”. The design seems different than the info pillars (though I don’t pay them much attention as they are useless).

  2. I can give you another example of a “parking an SUV in a park” equivalent:

    I was out in the Beaches (I still can’t bring myself to say “Beach”) on Sunday. I ended up sitting at the water’s edge in a sparsely populated area out by the Filtration plant. I was enjoying the peace, quiet and the view, when suddenly a SeaDoo far out in the lake started gunning straight towards me. I’m the only person sitting by the water, and there are vast expanses of empty beach on either side of me, but the driver parks his SeaDoo literally 3 feet away from me, and walks off. A couple minutes later, another SeaDoo comes along and parks on the other side of me, about 3 feet away. This time the driver sheepishly mutters “sorry” as he walks off. Annoyed that I’m now sitting in the middle of a gasoline-smelling parking lot, I pick up my things and move a bit further away. And of course, as soon as I’ve gotten comfortable, another SeaDoo comes along and parks itself in front of me.

    It’s unfortunate that all the regulations in the world won’t keep inconsiderate people from being inconsiderate.

  3. You could have pushed the SeaDoo out to sea after the walked off……

    There were indeed SeaDoos out on Sunday, some coming in and weaving between swimmers….others, usually dudes by themselves, would sort of “drive by” the shore, looking, then racing off towards the horizon as if they got scared. Weird.

    Not a personal concern, but they are the scourge of cottage country, and from what I’ve read, some lakes have tried to get them banned. Not sure how that works though.

  4. Did one of the men on the SeaDoo happen to look like Stockwell (Doris) Day?

  5. I really like Hanlan’s beach. I just don’t like the stupid boats so close to the beach with their crappy music. The place is pleasant for the exception of some weird guys walking around trying to find naked women. There are some really creepy dudes there. They could make that beach much better if they put ropes in the water for a sizable swimming area, if the clothing area were a bit further south (the further south you go the nicer and the “nuder” the beach gets) and if they created a segregated area for women and families.

  6. I don’t think it needs to be segregated. There are some weird guys from time to time, but there’s a lot more not-weird. Just like the city itself. And it does self regulate — everybody knows who the weird guy is, and avoids, and just ignores, as normal. The more popular the beach gets, they will be even more in a minority (just like the city). It still seems, even at the most southern end, about 60% clothed, so everybody is comfortable (though I overheard some grumbling from a hardcore nudist complaining it should be mandatory — but that’s not what toronto is about. No segregation, just freedom).

  7. Oh and (usually on the weekends) there are families. Not an overwhelming amount, but enough to make it look a bit like a “European” family beach.

  8. I just think that if there were a segregated area for women the place would be more comfortable and inviting for them and you wouldn’t see a ratio of 100 men to 1 woman in that place (which really creeps me out). Ask any woman you know if they would go to that beach alone and I can bet you that they would say no. So in a way the beach does not offer much freedom to single women who would like to enjoy a day in the beach reading a book or just sunbathing topless or totally nude alone and in peace… This city is still extremelly provincial and because of that the beach still has a long way to go to make it look anything like a “European” family beach.

  9. I think the idea of Hanlans likely intimidates a lot of those “provincial” male Torontonians too — but all it takes is one trip to change their mind. I take your point though, but have you been lately? There are a fair amount of single women on the beach. That ratio of women to men is changing, but it’s a vestige of Hanlans being a primarily gay beach (likely 60-40 now but was much higher in the past — hard to tell, of course, cuz this is Toronto).

    I do thing segregation would kill the loveliness of the place — but also, constitutionally, I don’t think it would even be possible.

  10. There are precedence on segregating the sexes all over the place; public washrooms, sports, schools, so I don’t see what is the big deal in giving the option for ladies to be left alone in a corner of the beach all for themselves. I don’t think it would be a big deal to have 20% exclusive area for women and 80% for everyone. Women are welcome to 100% of the beach but single men must stay away for the 20% area reserved for the ladies. There are tons of beaches across the world that do this. The beach is an example on how trying to be inclusive to the extreme ends up creating exclusiveness. Many women will not go to that beach because there are too many guys that will make them feel uncomfortable and that means the beach is not inviting or inclusive for them. As a guy I would not mind being prohibited from entering a small area for women. I haven’t been to Hanlan’s in a long time, but I doubt things have improved to make people feel more comfortable there.

    I also understand the hardcore nudist grumbling, there are too many “tourist” going to the beach, you can tell who they are not because they are fully clothed, but because of the way they try hard to act normal, it is quite funny. These people clearly feel uncomfortable around nudity, but their curiosity is much stronger and in a way they act as if they were visiting a zoo, so I understand the nudist crowd concern over it. But in general they can tell when you are there just to enjoy the beach and don’t care about nudity.

  11. ^”I haven’t been to Hanlan’s in a long time, but I doubt things have improved to make people feel more comfortable there”.


    Carlos, my motivation for posting about the beach is to change people’s dated misconceptions about the place. ‘ll leave it at that, then, and suggest you go this weekend, it’s gonna be hot.

  12. Funny thing, I have plans to go there next Monday and maybe this Friday. I used to go there a lot to fly my kite, hopefully there will be enough wind for that.

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