The warm summer months encourage us to explore and become reacquainted with the ways in which our cities connect with the water’s edge. Communities of all sizes can benefit from stronger relationships with their lakes and rivers–geography permitting. Capitalizing upon this relationship helps define a community’s history of urban development since its economic or industrial success was usually dependent and often continues to rely upon the viability of waterways for shipping and transportation. Access to the waterfront gives people a chance to relax and reflect in more natural surroundings away from the intensities of urban life.

Certainly, much attention has been paid over the past several years to Vancouver’s many connections to its waterfront. The continued evolution of the shoreline around False Creek, and the now-established connection along Coal Harbour between Stanley Park and the Vancouver Convention Centre has enhanced Vancouver’s pre-eminent status as a global waterfront metropolis, making it the envy of cities around the world.

In Toronto, the ongoing evolution of that city’s waterfront continues gradually with such welcome additions as the Martin Goodman Trail improvements at Marilyn Bell Park (Victor Ford and Associates); Sherbourne Park (Phillips Farevaag Smallenberg); and of course the whimsy of Canada’s Sugar Beach (Claude Cormier Architectes Paysagistes with The Planning Partnership). With its bright pink umbrellas embedded in an artificial sandy beach anchored by enormous candy-coloured rocks and fringed with pink-lit fountains conjuring up images of cream soda, Sugar Beach draws much inspiration from an ongoing industrial presence along Toronto’s waterfront–the Redpath Sugar refinery and warehouse facility located adjacent to the park–while overtly referencing its lakefront location.

Beyond the big city, one should not forget that many other communities across the country have also been working hard at strengthening or re-establishing their connections to the waterfront. These projects include: Stuart Park in Kelowna (Stantec Consulting); the Ralph Klein Park and Environmental Education Centre in Calgary (Simpson Roberts Architecture Interior Design and Carson McCulloch Associates); the City of Brantford Waterfront Master Plan (The Planning Partnership); the Red River Floodway Greenway in Winnipeg (Hilderman Thomas Frank Cram); the Vale Living with Lakes Centre at Laurentian University in Sudbury (Perkins + Will Canada with J.L. Richards & Associates); the IOD Park and Waterfront Master Plan in Thunder Bay (Brook McIlroy); the naturalization of the St. Charles River in Quebec City (Groupe IBI/Daniel Arbour & Associates); and improvements to La Salle Boulevard in Baie-Comeau (OPTION aménagement). Collectively, these projects represent a variety of scales and levels of complexity with respect to managing the interface between urbanization and natural systems. Each one of them contains tremendous insight regarding an increased awareness in ecological management and are therefore important catalysts for improving their respective public realms. Most will undoubtedly become seminal case studies for establishing the connection of a community to its waterfront. 

For example, along Thunder Bay’s waterfront, the city has already begun to revitalize its post-industrial landscape with a varied program–a theatre, music hall, bird sanctuary, outdoor cinema, water park, “cathedral” to the northland, meadows, small forests, and a zip-line course. The transformation of Thunder Bay’s waterfront has already seen the removal of Pool 6, a contiguous series of grain elevators that was once the world’s longest of its kind. Fortunately, the Iron Ore Dock (IOD) still remains. Built in 1944 and designed by C.D. Howe, this 500-metre-long concrete structure has remained an iconic element and will likely continue to function as a main feature of the city’s waterfront system. As these projects are so widely dispersed across the country, relatively few people will be able to appreciate the full breadth, ambition and sophistication found in many of these designs. Neverthesless, they are so worth studying and visiting–especially given our short summer season.

Ian Chodikoff