When you walk along King Street’s waterfront on a beautiful summer day, you will see a crowd of summer-loving beachgoers of all ages shaking out their towels, jumping into Lake Ontario, holding their toddler’s hands as they wade and splash into the shallow pebble beach; friends digging into their box lunches from Juniper Cafe (it’s just around the corner) or walking hand-in-hand over the pedestrian bridge towards Gord Edgar Downie Pier. It’s a sight that truly encompasses the spirit of summer in a city that values its access to Lake Ontario.
Today, Breakwater Park can be used by just about anyone for anything. There are grassy hills to enjoy a picnic, lots of sand for the full beach experience, a pier to make cannonballs off of over and over again as well as a shallow area perfect for young kids who might still need water wings. If you’re not much of a swimmer but like long walks or like to walk your dog with a view, you can do that here with the soothing sound of the waves crashing on the rocks in the background. It’s exactly what Kingston needs. A place for everyone to enjoy — from parasailers to sunbathers and everything in between.
In 2017, the “Great Lakes Challenge” encouraged communities to restore the lakes and that led to a $500,000 donation from The W. Garfield Weston Foundation to the Gord Edgar Downie Pier (located across the pedestrian bridge.) Once this donation was made, further funding from the City of Kingston and the provincial and federal governments helped broaden the scope of park improvements. This redevelopment is part of the Kingston Waterfront Master Plan and puts Kingston on the map as Canada’s first urban natural swimming pier.
If you’re wondering how the pier earned its name, The Tragically Hip’s late lead singer, Gord Downie, lived across from the original pier and was a board member and Swim Drink Fish ambassador. Swim Drink Fish is an organization that strives to sustain swimmable, drinkable, fishable water for everyone. They educate to empower people to safeguard their waters. Their efforts through Lake Ontario Waterkeeper launched in June 2001. Sixteen years later once the Breakwater Park project was underway, Kingston City Council voted unanimously to name the renovated dock after Downie. The name “Edgar” was included in the naming of the pier to honour Downie’s father. His brother, Patrick, explained to reporters that it was a fitting tribute and that the park “has been the backdrop of our entire family life and the one constant through the good times and the bad. When we think of home, this beautiful piece of shoreline is what we think of.”
Thanks to all of the incredible efforts in restoring this site and making it a leader in swimmable, drinkable, fishable water restoration, this shoreline will continue to be the backdrop to amazing memories for Kingstonians and visitors for years to come.