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August 9, 2013

Back to beach in Quebec City

We’ve been to Toronto, Canada’s largest city, dozens of times, having family there.

It was not until a visit last week, however, that we explored for the first time a mythic area of the city. It’s called The Beaches (or The Beach, according to a feuding faction), and there one finds, on big old Lake Ontario, what the neighborhood’s name implies — a sandy shore where people can swim.

This is a remarkable and enviable thing to folks from Quebec, a city built on another notable water course, the St. Lawrence River. Here, though, one dangles a toe into the river’s waters at what officials say is one’s peril. Indeed, swimming is strictly forbidden at the only official beach in the city, created a few years ago to allow all the usual beach-side sunning and funning activities, except swimming.

(Your scribe notes that Plattsburgh, on the shores of Lake Champlain, is also blessed with a civic beach — one of the largest freshwater beaches in the United States,” according to the city’s website.)

For all its extraordinary attributes, from historic architecture to splendorous parks to vibrant cultural scene, Quebec City lacks a decent swimmable public beach. This is particularly cruel for a lad raised in a place where one was a brisk bike ride away from a dive into several lakes and a slightly longer car ride from dozens more.

The summer we moved here, we went on a quest for an accessible beach, and the best we could find was overcrowded, highly commercialized little strip on a lake about an hour away that would have cost us a pretty penny for the dubious pleasure of a dip.

The problem is that although the St. Lawrence is a mighty (and mighty resilient) river, for literally centuries it’s been a convenient repository for human waste, as in sewage, as in fecal coliform.

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