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Can a waterless beach survive the pandemic?
A burned-out trailer may be a step too far for Toronto's whimsical Bloordale Beach.
This is why we can’t have ugly things.
Not even a schoolyard-sized chunk of gravel and sand made over as an oasis of weird in Toronto’s west end.
On Thursday I met up with artist and writer Shari Kasman to discuss the project she and a friend kickstarted in the summer, the wishfully titled Bloordale Beach.
No sooner did I show up than a guy in an orange safety vest started shooing us and another visitor away. “This is private property,” he warned. A crew was busy blocking off the entrances. How did it come to this?
The space, a large fenced-in plot of land where a school used to be (and where a new one is planned), had taken on a life of its own over these last few strange pandemic months.
There’s the “barkour” gym, intended as an obstacle course for dogs.
There’s the “sea turtle nesting area,” sheltering numerous colourful plastic and ceramic turtle-looking things alongside batches of eggs.
Various artworks and artifacts appear and disappear from week to week.
Did I mention the signs? There are great signs. Like the one that turns a threatening “no trespassing” into the welcoming “so yespassing.”
The beach has become a low-key community hub, where locals come to suntan, play games, drink and soak in the utter lack of atmosphere.
It has its own Twitter and multiple Instagram handles. You can buy official postcards. It’s got 39 glowing Google reviews and counting, with users raving about everything from the surf conditions to “the margaritas at Señor Frog’s.” The one complaint I found was that “the shower facilities only had 2 kinds of hair conditioner.”
To be clear, Bloordale Beach is not a beach at all. It’s not sandy — although a few large mounds of sand were mysteriously dumped on the lot earlier this month — and it’s not on the water. Unless you count the “lagoon” where, after it rains, “a large body of water forms.”
“It’s technically a puddle,” Kasman says. “Someone else put up a ‘Bloordale Beach Bar’ sign with a bottle opener attached to it.”
Though Bloordale Beach received a fair bit of neighbourhood attention — and even had Kasman leading tours there last month as part of the Big on Bloor festival — it only ever attracts a smattering of visitors.
“There’s no one ever here, as popular as it is,” Kasman says. “It’s a very popular unpopular beach.”
The project proves how much joy and whimsy could be had with even the barest of spaces. By temporarily reclaiming a large piece of unused land fenced off by the Toronto District School Board, the beach provides some much needed public space at a time when we’re all told to keep our distance from one another.
Just as importantly, “it’s provided people with some kind of entertainment during the pandemic,” Kasman says.
“I just talked to someone who said, ‘it’s my favourite thing from the whole pandemic.’ I find it entertaining too. I like making funny stuff.”
The latest beach attraction is a burned-out husk of a trailer that materialized on the lot on Monday.
Kasman studied the tracks around the vehicle and thinks it was pushed or dragged there, rather than towed, though she’s not sure who did it.
It’s there, while Kasman poses for a photo in front of the trailer, that the guy in the orange vest starts yelling in our direction.
How quickly we’ve gone from yespassers to ordinary trespassers.
We skulk back to the nearest fence-hole entrance.
“This never happens,” Kasman says. “It’s the first time I’ve seen them actually kicking people out.”
She thinks the recent accumulation of dumped trash — a large mound of construction rubble last weekend, and then the trailer — is what prompted the TDSB to take action.
But fans of the space aren’t giving up.
By Friday, someone had opened up a new entrance.
Clearly a beach this ugly is worth fighting for.
This was the 18th installment of Uncultured, your sorta-weekly guide to Toronto-centric pandemic entertainment. Like what you see here? Subscribe for free, tell a friend, leave a comment below, and do click the ♡ for good luck. See you next week.