'It's deep. It's cold': Beach-goers dip toes in Lake Ontario but few swimming in bone-chilling waters

·4 min read
Ram Daniel, left, Adam Tekabe, middle, and Evan Pasarelu, right, three high school friends who have just finished Grade 11, celebrate their first day of summer at Lake Ontario.  (Mary Wiens/CBC - image credit)
Ram Daniel, left, Adam Tekabe, middle, and Evan Pasarelu, right, three high school friends who have just finished Grade 11, celebrate their first day of summer at Lake Ontario. (Mary Wiens/CBC - image credit)

Lake Ontario is clean enough for swimming, says Toronto Public Health, but an unofficial survey by CBC News has found few people are taking the plunge this early in the season because it's so cold.

"There are a lot of people who do not want to go in the lake at all. They're afraid of it. They think they'll turn nuclear or something, come out glowing," Stevan Jovanovich, a Toronto resident, told CBC Radio's Metro Morning on Monday at Woodbine Beach.

"My experience has been fine. It's a very cold lake. It's deep. It's cold."

The City of Toronto flies Blue Flags as part of an international program at its beaches on Lake Ontario. The flags mean the beaches meet certain high standards for water quality, environmental management, environmental education and safety.

Ten beaches, including Woodbine Beach, were considered "safe to swim" at on Monday as part of the Blue Flag program, according to Toronto Public Health.

"Conditions are based upon E. coli counts in beach water samples taken over the past 24 hours," the city says on its website.

Jovanovic, who is retired, said he has been swimming in Lake Ontario every year for the past 40 years. He said which way the wind is blowing makes all the difference. He grew up in Woodstock, Ont., but has lived in Toronto since he was 18.

If the winds are onshore and blowing north, it's warmer, but if offshore and blowing south, it's colder.

"If the wind is onshore, it brings the warm water up to the surface, and then it's quite nice. When the wind is blowing south, the Americans are having a nice fine warm beach," he said. "When it's coming our way, it's our turn."

LISTEN| CBC Radio's Mary Wiens asks people how the water is at Woodbine Beach:

Linda Moore, a Toronto resident, said she and her husband John Moore would swim in Lake Ontario if they had pool shoes because they want to protect their feet. She remembers the water being cold from when she went for a dip when she was 16.

Back then, she went into the lake with a group of young people and was wearing a white bathing suit. Green seaweed ended up on it when she came out of the water. "It wasn't very pretty," she said.

Now, she said she isn't too worried about the lake's temperature or its water quality and noted that the people who were swimming on Monday "were not dropping dead."
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Moore added: "This is our lake and our beach. We're proud of it. It's nice. We're lucky to have it. There's a lot of cities that are nowhere near any water so this is nice. It's a lovely beach."

Mary Wiens/CBC
Mary Wiens/CBC

For Andrea Whitener, a resident of North Carolina, the water was very cold but still enjoyable for wading on Monday.

She was at Woodbine Beach with her daughter, Jayla Lewis, and Jayla's friend, Ashlyn Black, both high school graduates on their first visit to Canada.

She said most kids go to a tropical destination to celebrate their high school graduation but she wanted to take them to another part of the world.

"We're used to the southern beaches of the United States. This is different for us," Whitener said. "I just saw the name of the beach online and I came out and we're enjoying it."

There are seashells, not rocks, on the beaches of North Carolina, she said.

Lewis said she'd just found out that Lake Ontario is one of the five Great Lakes, but that's not all.

"I just learned Lake Ontario is really cold. It's too cold for me."

'It promotes good circulation,' visitor says

Kayle and Evan Luft, brothers from Calgary who are in Toronto for a wedding, said the water was just fine. They were at the lake for their first time.

"It's perfect. It's fantastic, but I have to admit, I'm from Calgary, so we're used to the cold lakes," Kayle Luft said.

"This is perfect. It's refreshing. It's great. It promotes good circulation because the water's really cold. You should get in there."

Mary Wiens/CBC
Mary Wiens/CBC
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