‘Swim Guide’ Helped Me Build a Community of Water Lovers in Toronto’s West End!

‘Swim Guide’ Helped Me Build a Community of Water Lovers in Toronto’s West End!

Posted: June 16, 2022 at 9:47 am

In September 2020, I packed up and made the move to the West End of Toronto. After 27 years of being an East-ender and witnessing the coveted Blue Flags swaying in the wind along Woodbine Beach, I found myself diving into the shores of Humber Bay. Wading into the water and peering north, it became very clear to me that the shoreline here is more developed than it is along Woodbine Beach. Although it’s not currently lined with old native trees, a wooden boardwalk or warm sand speckled with endemic grass mounds, the newly planted greenery is filling in, restoration projects are underway, diverse species’ habitats remain protected, and the water communities of the West End are alive and growing! 


Over the years, I’ve recognized that attaining clarity, engaging in activities, and building friendships have mostly occurred in, or by water for me. Travelling alone; I head to the water. Feeling down; I head to the water. No destination in mind; I head to the water. Seeking new meaningful friendships; I head to the water. Move to a new area; I head to the water. Raise your hand if you can relate! So here I was, down by the water at Humber Bay Park West engaging in shoreline yoga and breathwork, preparing myself to wade into the crisp, clear water of Toronto’s West End. As months passed, I forged and deepened my relationship with this slice of Lake Ontario; familiarizing myself with the paddlers of the Humber, the fly fishermen under the Old Mill bridge, and the cold-dippers of Humber Bay Park West. My community of water lovers began to expand, new empowering friendships evolved, and more water activities were underway.



Breathwork and cold dip community on the shore of Humber Bay Park West with ‘Breathing in Nature’


For me, expansion often leads to more curiosity. Naturally, as I explored Humber Bay, I increasingly became more interested in the health of the ecosystem. I began to investigate the Indigenous history of the Humber, water health, species abundance, the complexity of sewage systems, the terrestrial trail systems and the culture of the water communities. With a quick Google search, I stumbled upon Swim Guide, a free web and mobile app that connects millions of people to water each year. I quickly navigated to the ‘Humber Bay Park West’ page to learn more about the water quality and was ecstatic to simply click the pie graph to discover that this beach I now call home had historically passed water quality tests at a rate of nearly 80%. Swim Guide highlights that the region is sampled weekly from late June to mid-September, it is a popular spot for scuba-diving groups and is in close proximity to the Humber Wastewater Treatment Plant. 



Niki paddling the Humber River, exploring and diving into the health of the ecosystem


As a diver, sailor, paddler and explorer of water, Swim Guide has become an empowering tool that allows me to make more informed decisions when recreating in, and around water. It houses data for over 8,000 beaches across 11 countries and counting as more affiliates, community science groups, and Public Health Units join the effort to connect people to water through publicly available and user-friendly water data. I was excited to recently discover that over the next month, the currently unmonitored beaches of ‘Humber Bay Shores Park’ and ‘Humber Bay Park East’ will be sampled where water quality results will be shared to Swim Guide. As a new member of Toronto’s West End, I encourage the local community to download and explore their local beaches through Swim Guide this summer. I hope to see you in, on and around the water this season! 



Niki and partner, Savannah, sailing west along the Lake Ontario shoreline 

Author: Walter Cook