Parks we love: Sugar Beach, Toronto

Continuing with our “Parks We Love” series—profiling bold designs for urban public spaces—the next post takes us to Canada’s Sugar Beach, on Toronto’s Lake Ontario waterfront.  

Introducing "Parks We Love" blog series

And that they did. Over the course of 25 years, through an intense community engagement process, Brooklyn Bridge Park Conservancy transformed a previously deteriorated stretch of waterfront into a world-class park with a diverse mix of uses where the public can gather, play, kick back, and enjoy sweeping views of New York Harbor.

This unique two-acre space is situated on 225 meters (738 feet) of shoreline and has completely repurposed what was once an industrial area parking lot into a vibrant gathering spot for residents and visitors alike. Today, beachgoers are welcomed by white sands and bubble gum-pink umbrellas, a peaceful, scenic spot where people of all ages can relax, enjoy community programming, or just simply watch the boats sail by and the sugar barges unload at the neighboring Redpath Sugar factory. 

However, the park’s boundaries go beyond its sandy shores. Additional community-friendly features are incorporated in the design, in the form of plaza space, a tree-lined promenade with striking granite rock outcroppings, and grass mounds defining an amphitheater-styled area, ideal seating during concerts and events. Importantly, the beach promenade and plaza are fully accessible for those with disabilities, and a boardwalk is positioned level with the sand, leading to beach umbrellas and chairs. 

The inspiration behind the park came out of a governmental push to revitalize industrial space into welcoming, recreational spaces with public accessibility, design excellence, sustainable development, and economic development 

Sugar Beach officially opened to the public in August 2010. Designed by Montreal-based architectural firm Claude Cormier + Associés the $14.3 million park has received numerous awards since its opening, including an Honor Award from the American Society of Landscape Architecture (ASLA), a National Urban Design Award, and an Award of Excellence from the Toronto Urban Design Awards.  

“Playful and whimsical, this design transforms an industrial space into a real breath of fresh air along the waterfront,” the 2012 ASLA Awards Jury said of the park. “It’s a contrived landscape that people are craving. It’s fun to be a designer with a project like this.” 

In a September 2018 interview with University of Toronto Magazine, architect Claude Cormier described the public as his first priority when designing his landscapes. It’s an inspiration that clearly comes through in his whimsical yet practical designs.  

“We’re doing it for the people,” he described. “We are working with developers who are starting to understand that if you do a good landscape, it’s going to bring them value. A way to do that is through good open-space plans, good amenities, good integration with the street. Then the public feels that they have something there for them.” 

The design at Sugar Beach certainly reflects this vision, presenting a thriving hub of activity. Community events are frequently hosted there, against a unique urban backdrop of working port and city skyline, including an annual “Sail-In Cinema” gathering hosted by PortsToronto. Each year this free summer film festival transforms the sandy beach into an outdoor theater, screening films on a two-story, two-sided screen atop a barge positioned in the harbor. In 2018 the two-night event drew approximately 8,000 moviegoers, including over 50 boats to the harbor.  

“Eight years ago, PortsToronto brought Sail-In Cinema to the water’s edge as a means of encouraging people to visit Toronto’s harbour,” said Deborah Wilson, Vice President, Communications and Public Affairs, PortsToronto. “Over the years the event has evolved into a not-to-be-missed experience that brings people from across the city down to the waterfront for a weekend of film, fun, family, and community.” 

Construction of the park took nine months and is part of a 25-year mandate to transform 800 hectares (2,000 acres) of brownfield lands on the waterfront. The multi-year mandate is led by “Waterfront Toronto,” a corporation funded by three levels of government: The Governments of Canada and Ontario and the City of Toronto.  

Ultimately, the full project is expected to require approximately $30 billion in public and private funding.  

“Waterfront Toronto’s ambitions for the waterfront include social, economic, and environmental goals,” said Michael Nobrega, Acting CEO of Waterfront Toronto. “Goals that lead to tangible benefits for Torontonians, Ontarians, and Canadians.” 

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About this series: The Trustees’ One Waterfront initiative is a bold, new vision for establishing a resilient urban waterfront. Yes, the vision is big, and new for Boston, but we have the benefit of following in the footsteps of those who have paved the way. Many waterfront parks designed for climate resilience have emerged over the past few decades all along the world’s coastlines and are models to emulate and learn from. The lessons learned from these pioneering open spaces—in science, design, and beyond—have and will continue to provide The Trustees and our partners with an expansive knowledge base for planning practices as we progress toward our vision for iconic, public open spaces on the Boston Waterfront.  To read the first post in the series, which profiled Brooklyn Bridge Park, click here