Hot enough for ya? The City of Toronto’s 58 outdoor pools open full-time this week—however, not all of them were created equally.
Did you know that the City of Toronto operates 58 outdoor swimming pools (and 64 indoor pools, 106 wading pools, and 93 splash pads) in pretty much every nook and cranny in town? Few ponder the options available beyond their own neighbourhood—and Sunnyside-Gus Ryder, overlooking the lake, grabs all the attention—but a subway token is all that stands between you and “afternoon, evening, and weekend aquatic programming [that] includes leisure, family and length swimming opportunities” (as promised at the tony Lambton-Kingsway Pool in the city’s west end).
With City pools kicking off full-time operations this Friday (June 28), we survey and rate a small, random sample of what’s out there. (Note: Outdoor pools are already open on a part-time basis—check locations for hours—and some offer extended hours during heatwaves, like the one we’re in right now.)
Name: Alex Duff Memorial Pool
’Hood: Bloor and Christie, located at the north-west corner of Christie Pits Park. #CHP
Vibe: Pure bliss in a beautiful park smack-dab in the centre of the city—though, like most pools we checked out, it offers precious little shade poolside. Lots of nearby trees, though.
Bells & Whistles: With its 25m lap pool (and access ramp), shallow splash pool for kids, “warm conversation pool,” deep diving pool with 1m board and a two-storey water slide (!), Alex Duff may be the granddaddy of inner-city pools. The Baskin Robbins and street-meat cart operating at the south-east edge means instant picnic and, Christie Pits has oodles of tables scattered throughout the park.
Weirdness Factor: Overzealous lifeguards. A journalist friend who lives in the area and is prone to sun-burning still blanches at the incident two years ago when she turned up wearing protective covering only to be brusquely escorted off-premises because, she was informed, “street clothes” were not permitted (though she claims “it was just a T-shirt”).
Rating (out of 5): 5/5—top grade. Even the graffiti decorating the pool area’s foundation is wicked-cool.
Name: Alexandra Park Outdoor Pool
’Hood: Bathurst and Dundas at the Scadding Court Community Centre. #DNW
Bells & Whistles: None—the pool is serviceable and unspectacular. But some of the nearby amenities are surprisingly cool, like the row of lip-smacking independent food vendors on the south side of Dundas (Mac’ N gourmet macaroni and cheese, Kitchen Cargo chicken pies, I Deal Coffee, etc). The Toronto Public Library’s Sanderson branch is right there if you want to grab a book and—god forbid—if anything unfortunate happens, Toronto Western Hospital is across the street.
Weirdness Factor: With the CN Tower rising fiercely to the south and the crazy lady hollering at the pigeons, Alexandra Park never for a minute lets you forget you are in the concrete jungle—which, it turns out, is a somewhat discombobulating place to strip down and swim.
Rating (out of 5): 2/5—a nice idea but the dominant sturm und drang of the city diminishes desired transcendence.
Name: Monarch Park Outdoor Pool
’Hood: A few blocks south of Danforth, halfway between Greenwood and Coxwell on Felstead Avenue. #LTI
Vibe: “I’m in the city—really?” Set in a smallish but pristine park bisected by a pedestrian boulevard lined by rows of old-growth trees, Monarch Park invokes the country despite being a stone’s throw from boisterous Little India and the ever-grinding TTC Greenwood Yard.
Bells & Whistles: The City website sums it up best: “The swimming pool area features a 25m pool with diving area, 2 storey waterslide, raised seating area, and a separate wading pool area. Monarch Park Pool also offers a variety of swimming lessons for all ages, including leadership classes and parent and tot classes”—which explains the pool’s dedicated “stroller area.” (How cute is that?)
Weirdness Factor: Nothing apparent; amenities such as restaurants and convenience stores are keenly lacking, so it’s BYO water and snacks.
Grade (out of 5): 4/5—it’s a bit tricky to find, and a hot-dog cart would be awesome, but Monarch Park is pretty and very peaceful.
Name: Mitchell Field Outdoor Pool
’Hood: North York, a short hike north and east of the North York Centre subway station at the Mitchell Field Community Centre. #NYK
Vibe: The pool sits on a residential street facing a row of large, detached McMansions; discreet, yes, but the multiple condo towers garlanding nearby Yonge Street—to say nothing of the gargantuan 24-hour Metro grocery store at the corner of Yonge and Church Avenue—reinforce a distinctly urban feel. (In other words, it’s no Eringate Park. Now that’s a suburban pool.)
Bells & Whistles: As with Alexandra Park, none to speak of. The utilitarian pool is suitable for splashing and laps, but doesn’t offer a water slide, kiddie pool area, or much else.
Weirdness Factor: Sorry, but looking at cookie-cutter houses, no matter how stately, just doesn’t soothe the soul. Awesome-convenient for those living in them, though.
Grade (out of 5): 2/5—in a word, meh.
Name: Riverdale Park East Outdoor Pool
’Hood: Broadview south of Danforth in that bowl-like park best known for the killer winter tobogganing hill and spectacular west-facing views of the downtown skyline. #RIV
Vibe: Purposefully or not, the nearby tennis courts underscore the area’s budding affluence, witnessed to the north at Playter Estates and to the east in so-called prime Riverdale. But hey, parks are for people, and so are their pools.
Bells & Whistles: According to an on-site lifeguard—a different one than the staffer who screeched bloody murder at me for peeking inside a gate prior to general opening time—the water slide isn’t working at the moment, but the pool’s expansive size and setting amid large trees overlooking the DVP is nevertheless really, really nice.
Weirdness Factor: Hyper-vigilant lifeguards, though that’s presumably a plus for those visiting with children.
Grade (out of 5): 3/5. Not quite Alex Duff or Monarch Park, but an excellent place to wow out-of-towners seeking unique city sights.
What’s your favourite outdoor pool in the city? Let us know in the comments section below.