This hasn’t been the best of summers in the city. The rotten weather, the piles of garbage and the fraying economy are discouraging. Dire warnings about city finances emanate from city hall. Too many young men carry around guns used to kill other young men.
It all makes the discovery of a bit of urban paradise that much sweeter.
Okay, the stretch of western waterfront between the Sunnyside Pavilion and Mimico Creek isn’t perfect. The roar of traffic from the Gardiner intrudes. Condo developments crowd the public space as you travel west. But a lakeshore walk also reveals much that is good.
In front of Sunnyside Pavilion, the installation of a $1-million impermeable cloth curtain shields the water from the rest of the lake, creating at least one short stretch of beach that is more often than not safe for swimming. The curtain enclosure and the installation of an ultra-violet-light water treatment unit mean the beach was closed for only one day between Aug. 1 and Aug. 12.
The three other unenclosed beaches in the Sunnyside area were too polluted for use on six days. West of Sunnyside, it’s even more evident why the waterfront is an urban treasure. Dozens of different languages can be heard as families stroll along the boardwalk. Dog owners — they really do resemble their pets — struggle to keep the animals from chasing the geese.
The elegant white bridge that spans the Humber River is the prettiest in the city. And then there’s the Humber Bay Butterfly Habitat. A few years ago, it looked a bit scraggly as native plants struggled to assert their presence. These days, wildflowers, stunning in their understated delicacy, combine to create small explosions of colour.
There’s a pond crisscrossed by bridges on the far side of the butterfly habitat. The loveliness belies its practicality — the pond is really a series of settling ponds used to naturally treat the polluted water that runs into the lake from Mimico Creek.
From there you can walk out onto the treed peninsula that is Humber Bay Park East. Stop a moment at the Air India memorial. The wall with the victims’ names is a haunting testimony to loss. But gazing out at the lake from the peninsula’s point somehow cleanses the soul and offers reassurance — reassurance that in the midst of all that is wrong, the city still contains refuges that are utterly, transcendently right.