Saturday, August 14, 2010

Sugar Beach or Sugar "Beach"?

Today wasn't the nicest day (cloudy and humid), but I decided to check out Toronto's newest beach, Sugar Beach, which opened officially to the public on August 9th. The beach is situated at the end of Jarvis St and next to the Redpath Sugar Refinery -- a big hulking warehouse of a building that sits across from the beach -- and is part of Waterfront Toronto's revitalization of, um, the waterfront of Toronto.

Waterfront Toronto's webpage on Sugar Beach uses the word "whimsical" twice in its description. This would be annoying if it wasn't so true. Whimsical is exactly what Sugar Beach is: there are the bubblegum pink umbrellas, the white Muskoka chairs, the candy-cane striped granite rocks, the ground-quartz sand, the pipes shaped like candy-canes with subtle metallic striping. Like I said: whimsical.

Sugar Beach is also quite surreal, located as it is next to an industrial building it seems an odd place to find such an idyllic area, but I enjoyed the contrast between the carefully designed beach area and the more grimy industry nearby. And if you get bored you can watch ships get loaded and unloaded or watch the ferries heading to Toronto Island.

The design of the beach itself, done by Claude Cormier Landscape Architects (they're also doing the Evergreen Brickworks), is great. It does, however, have the feel of a fancy meal at a restaurant where the food is constructed in such a way that it seems you don't want to eat it for fear of ruining it. But I was in love with the benches chosen, of which there are two kinds: one backless, and one with a curving, almost plant-like looking back. Both are quite comfortable.

In Mark Schatzker's review of the beach in the Globe & Mail he calls it a: "a postmodern park with beach references – sand, umbrellas, a boardwalk, even lifebuoys." In a way, I agree. But it all depends on your definition of beach. Schatzker's definition seems to hinge on water lapping against sand. In this definition, Sugar Beach is actually Sugar "Beach" because there is a low guard rail separating the beach from a several foot drop to water. There is definitely no sand-on-water contact happening here.

And, yes, Sugar Beach probably stretches the beach moniker a bit. Sugar Park doesn't sound as good, though. And, honestly, does it matter? One can argue semantics and the tenets of postmodern urban design, but at the end of the day Sugar Beach is still a spiffy new public space that reconnects downtown Toronto to its waterfront. And besides, breaking out the air-quotes every time you wanted to invite someone to Sugar "Beach" would be cumbersome.

Located nearby is Corus Quay, a new LEED Gold building that is to house the Canadian Media company Corus Entertainment. I thought the building would be imposing, but its facade is completely transparent and engaging, allowing passers-by to peek into the interior and check out what looked to me like a water slide.

Schatzker also wonders if people are going to use the beach and if children will be disappointed at the lack of sand-castle building ability in the sand (it's really good for sticking sockless toes into, though). Although it may have just been the excitement of a new toy taken out of its packaging, I can say that Sugar Beach was pretty busy today, even with the sticky weather. Most of the chairs contained people and there were a fare amount of children digging around with plastic buckets and shovels. They seemed content, beach or "beach".

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