One Sunday, as summer entered its final month, a group of eight women and four men, dressed in varying degrees of beach wear, gathered at the top of a pedestrian pathway near Bloor and Dufferin streets for a tour of Bloordale Beach, Toronto’s newest summer getaway. Walking south, the group soon came upon a fenced-in lot of rocky white infill, edged with sand along much of the perimeter. “Bloordale is unlike most other beaches,” said Shari Kasman, one of the beach’s co-founders, who was leading the tour. “For one, it is landlocked.”
Kasman, who is an artist and writer, and an anonymous friend began thinking of ways to turn the lot—which, until 2019, was the site of Brocton High School, since demolished—into a space for public use earlier this year. “When it was a high school, there was a parking lot, so you could cut though from Bloor Street to behind the Dufferin Mall,” Kasman said. “Once it was fenced in you couldn’t do that anymore. So my friend started breaking into the fences to gain access, and then someone from the Toronto District School Board would come by and close it again.”
When the covid-19 pandemic hit and most of the places people once gathered closed, Kasman started spending time in the empty space. “I’d walk around in circles or talk on the phone. Then I started thinking, What if we set up a living room in the middle, and my friend said, ‘I think that would encourage dumping.’ So I said, ‘What about a bunch of inflatable pools?’ And he said, ‘Yeah, but you might have trouble getting water.’ Then one day I was walking by and there was a guy suntanning over there, and I was like, ‘Oh wow, this could be a beach.’”
Kasman and her friend began making signs directing people to the beach, which they hung on the fence and at one nearby high-traffic location on Bloor. Bloordale Beach officially opened on May 25th. The following day, representatives of the T.D.S.B. removed the signs and re-secured the site. This back and forth happened twice, but by August, the school board seemed content to let the beach be. Kasman and her co-founder procured six deck chairs from a nearby Value Village, which they placed in the centre of the space to encourage casual gatherings. “I saw a really adorable date,” Kasman said. “There were these two women and one had surprised the other. They were there around sunset. They had a beach towel and a blow-up unicorn floaty thing, drinks, an umbrella. It’s the best beach setup I’ve seen. The beachiest.”
On the day of the tour, the beach was empty, save for the tour group and some passers through. Kasman recounted the beach’s brief history and walked the group though its many sights: a sea turtle nesting area (three toy turtles nestled inside a tree protector), the barkour range (a parkour-like exercise area for dogs, made up largely of repurposed ice-cream containers), the lagoon (a divot of dried clay that briefly fills with water when it rains), the botanical garden (a patch of common weeds), the bar (a Steam Whistle bottle opener hanging from the fence—a gift to the beach from a fan), and the adjoining Bloordale Meadow (the back field of Bloor Collegiate Institute, located next door).
“Does that sort of thing happen often?” asked one member of the tour, pointing to a man relieving himself against a storage shed, just outside the beach fence.