The sand at Woodbine Beaches feels hot enough to melt the flip-flops off your feet.

The air is thick and foreheads are dripping, but few sun seekers choose to cool off in the lake.

Tamia Sparks, who beelines to Woodbine nearly every summer weekend, says she would rather see her seven-year-old daughter build sand castles than venture into the water.

Toronto beaches just can’t seem to shake Lake Ontario’s dirty reputation even though seven of them — including Woodbine — are rated among the best in the world by the international Blue Flag Programme.

“It’s not easy to get a blue flag,” says Toronto Water spokesperson Cheryl San Juan. “These are world-class beaches.”

But local beachgoers seem to find that hard to believe. “It doesn’t look safe,” says Megan Robertson, eyeing the cloudy Woodbine surf. Still, she’s chosen to swim: “It’s pretty hot so I want to cool off.”


Blue flag rating

To score a blue flag, a beach must meet a long list of standards set out in four categories. Here’s an overview:


  • First, it has to be green and clean — no unauthorized camping or driving, no dumping and strict control of doggie doo.

  • The beach should promote environmental education activities, display maps and develop a beach code of conduct.

  • The water quality must be supreme. No industrial waste, no sewage
    leaks and the beach must be tested regularly for E.coli and other
    bacteria levels.

  • Finally, safety matters. The beach must have lifeguards, first aid
    equipment and drinking water. And at least one Blue Flag beach in each
    municipality must be accessible to people with physical disabilities.

  • For the full list of standards, visit www.