Biking along Lake Shore Blvd along Toronto’s waterfront–today was a perfect day for cycling–I almost missed this “sweet” spot down by the water because of a large grassy earth mound that blocked street views of the park. Sugar Beach, designed by Claude Cormier – Architectes Paysagistes, is a sweetly themed, award-winning reclaimed industrial site and recent recipient of the 2012 ASLA General Design Honor Award.
In a former life not too long ago, this whimsical, sugar-themed park used to be a parking lot leftover from the waterfront’s industrial past. Commissioned as part of the waterfront revitalization program, the landscape architects swapped hard asphalt for soft white sand, transforming Sugar Beach into the second–after HTO Park–urban beach on the shore of Lake Ontario. The neighboring Redpath Sugar Factory provided design inspiration for the park’s sugar theme which runs rampant across the site, from the cotton candy-pink umbrellas to the sugar-white sand.
This former stretch of asphalt was replaced with 36 large and brightly colored pink umbrellas, white Adirondack-style chairs, and layered with white, pristine sand imported from Ohio. Along with the urban beach, the park also features a plaza, grassy mounds, and a tree-lined promenade that runs diagonally through the park.
Since I visited on an early weekday morning, there were few people at the park. On a typical summer weekend, however, the place is packed with families and sunbathing couples. I loved that the designers planned a variety of sitting spaces so that even if you couldn’t land a coveted spot on the beach, there were still plenty of places to stretch out, from rock outcroppings for sunbathing to shaded grassy mounds for napping. And since you can’t swim in the water–Lake Ontario is highly polluted due to the waterfront’s industrial past–the designers added a fun and interactive splash fountain in a maple-leaf shaped plaza.
But looking around, one has to wonder: did the designers take the sugar theme too far? Rock outcroppings are striped peppermint red-and-white and candy cane-shaped furnishings dot the landscape. The water jets in the splash fountain are even lit up by bubblegum-pink lights. But despite its somewhat Disneyland-esque look, the park hits home for me. On a beautiful day in Toronto, this urban beach really comes alive as a waterfront paradise: the bright pink umbrellas pop against the white sand and deep blue lake; the long strands of yellow-green willow leaves cast bluish shadows on the grass; and on certain days, you might even smell that faint waft of burning sugar from the Redpath sugar factory next door.