How Sweet It Is: Claude Cormier Talks Urban Beaches


It’s no secret that urban beaches are a big thing here in Toronto, and we just so happen to have a close tie with the man behind a few of your favourites! Claude Cormier is one of Canada’s most prevalent landscape architects, whose work in Toronto, Montreal, and around the world is highly acclaimed. He is the guy behind Sugar Beach – our city’s sweetest hangout spot! We caught up with Claude to chat about Sugar Beach and it’s importance to our urban landscape, and why urban beaches are great to have in cities in general.

How do you approach new urban beach projects? How do you make sure they each have something special about them?

It’s really all about the sand and umbrellas. Sugar Beach is straightforward – it’s much about having a rapport with the lake and the water. Beaches don’t need to be overly-designed, they just need to be singular, comfortable, sexy, and you want some scenery around you. At the beach, there’s this notion of being in your own mental bubble under an umbrella, either by yourself, or with your family and your friends. You’re in this bubble within the public domain. The umbrella really helps to create your own bubble. You can be your own in that space, but at the same time be surrounded by lots of people.

These man made beaches that we put into the city give the experience of being at the beach, in a condensed urban environment. There’s more people, closer together, compared to the usual miles and miles of beaches. Sugar Beach has that chemistry – the umbrellas are necessary, as well as the sand and the chairs, with an open view on to the lake, while having the city in your back. It creates a unique experience, right downtown, it’s pretty awesome.


What challenges did you face in making Sugar Beach a desirable place to spend time in Toronto?
Unfortunately, we cannot swim at Sugar Beach because of the working port, but being next to Lake Ontario still makes it a great place to be during the summer. You have the wind, sun, an open view, and an esplanade of trees behind you. There are lots of people walking along this esplanade. The promenade is in the back and there’s never anyone walking in front of you, which protects the beach user experience.

There are so many great components of Sugar Beach. What’s your favourite?
My favourite element would be the light pink umbrellas. I like the colour, even though when we were first designing them with that colour, it was controversial. That shade of pink against the blue sky works really well. It’s a soft, pastel tone, complementing the colour of the lake and the colour of the sky. Since they have been built, I’ve never heard anyone say they were inappropriate. It actually helped to brand the beach.


Why pink?
The colour pink was very challenging at the beginning of the design process, and we were able to convince Toronto Waterfront that being risky in the colour selection was important to create a clear and strong identity for the beach. Looking back, we can attest that the colour yellow at HTO doesn’t have the same power that we have with the pink at Sugar Beach. The pink has become the brand of Sugar Beach – next to the Redpath Sugar factory located right across from the beach. It’s simple and the colour expresses a sense of place that’s unique to the city, and I think that’s why Sugar Beach is what it is. When we designed the space I never knew how amazing it would be – everybody loves it.

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