Solo Swims of Ontario Inc.

Lake Ontario - Course Details

INDEX: The Course | Currents | Waypoints | Distances | Water Temperatures | SSO Home Page

- The Course -

Toronto Waterfront: A separate MapQuest HTML file provides a bird's eye view of the Toronto waterfront and the three common areas for the finish of south-to-north swims on Lake Ontario.

South-to-North: The traditional course follows the route used by 16-year-old Marilyn Bell on the first successful crossing of the lake which occurred on 8-9 September 1954. This route starts in the south at Niagara-on-the-Lake (NOTL) in the mouth of the Niagara River. The finishing point is approximately 51 km away in a direction approximately NW (335), at the wall along Aquatic Drive - through the first entrance in the breakwater to the west of Ontario Place, on Lakeshore Boulevard in Toronto. This finishing area is now known appropriately as Marilyn Bell Park and is shown in the linked MapQuest file. Exit from the water is via a steel ladder; a series of these ladders are embedded in the wall along Aquatic Drive and are located conveniently in front of each of the park benches that are stationed approximately every 50 m along Aquatic Drive.

SSO only recognizes South-to-North records that are set over this course - swims to Leslie Street Spit (Vicki Keith Point) or Clark Beach Park (at the foot of Cherry Street) are not considered for the purpose of Records. To recognize such records would just encourage the development of numerous new and novel courses.

Niagara-on-the-Lake (NOTL): Through the efforts of swimmer John Scott, SSO, and the town council of NOTL, a stone monument and plaque were erected and unveiled on 29 October 1994 in honour of the successful cross-lake swimmers. Many of the successful swimmers were at the unveiling, including: the first two successful swimmers - Marilyn Bell-DiLascio and John Jaremey; womens' record holder, Cindy Nicholas; Vicki Keith (the only successful two-way swimmer and the only butterfly crossing); and Patty Thompson (the oldest female crossing).

This monument is adjacent to the starting point by the bandstand at the foot of Water Street in Niagara-on-the-Lake. The plaque lists all of the successful swimmers, their crossing dates, and associated times.

Leslie Street Spit, Vicki Keith Point (Toronto): In recent years, a landfill area has extended the Toronto shoreline further into the lake to form the Leslie Street Spit, (LSS), with the area being named as Tommy Thompson Park. The rocky point at Leslie Street Spit (LSS) has become a popular finishing point for cross-lake swimmers. In 1998, the point was named by the city of Toronto as Vicki Keith Point and a plaque was unveiled to name the point in honour of Vicki Keith, her marathon swims, and her efforts to raise funds for disabled children. The distance from NOTL to the Spit is some 5 km shorter than the traditional route and measures 45.3 km in a direction of approximately 341 from the mouth of the Niagara River at Niagara-on-the-Lake. Link to MapQuest map of the Leslie Street Spit area.

Clark Beach Park, Cherry Street (Toronto): Before the Leslie Street Spit was established, a number of swims were completed from Niagara-on-the-Lake to the Clark Beach Park at the foot of Cherry Street (across Unwin Avenue), and to the east of the entrance into the Toronto Islands - a further 2.5 km beyond the current position of the Leslie Street Spit (Vicki Keith Point) but still shorter than the traditional course to Marilyn Bell Park. Link to MapQuest map of the Clark Beach Park area.

North-to-South Swims: Due to the flow of water from the Niagara River and the Welland Canal, North-to-South swims general finish in the area of Port Dalhousie (PD) - most popularly the beach just to the west of the entrance to Port Dalhousie harbour. A MapQuest plot of Port Dalhousie is shown as a separate file. A start at Leslie Street Spit (LSS) involves a distance of approximately 45.5 km at a bearing of approximately 182. Starting from beaches just east of the Port Credit Yacht Club (PCYC), for example Marie Curtis Park at the mouth of Etobicoke Creek, involves a distance of around 47.7 km and at a bearing of approximately 162.

Navigational Points - Waypoints: For convenience, a series of waypoints and presented in a separate file to aid in location of the common starting and finishing points for cross-lake swims on Lake Ontario. These points include Niagara-on-the-Lake, Port Dalhousie, Marie Curtis Park, Marilyn Bell Park, Leslie Street Spit (Vicki Keith Point), and Clark Beach Park (Cherry Street).

Cross-Lake Distances: The cross-lake distances associated with the previous waypoints are presented in a separate file.

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- Currents -

CURRENTS: There are significant currents in Lake Ontario and their speed and direction vary depending upon a number of factors which include: closeness to rivers, and the wind direction in the previous days.

Due to these currents, even in mid-lake, swimmers will find themselves needing to swim in a direction that may be up to 40 degrees from a straight-line course!

Apart from the hazards of shipping and sudden storms, these currents are a major reason for needing a pilot boat with either Loran C or a GPS satellite navigating system.

A significant flow out of the Niagara River prevents any swims from finishing in that area. Similarly, swimmers do attempt to keep clear of water exiting from the Welland Canal which is located just to the east of Port Dalhousie (PD).

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- Water Temperatures -

While the temperature of Lake Erie is relatively constant, the temperature of Lake Ontario may vary widely depending upon location in the lake and the wind directions in the preceding days. Environment Canada notes:

Northwest winds after the passage of a cold front can quickly push the surface water on Lake Ontario towards the southeast shore and bring much colder water from deeper layers to the surface along the northwest (Toronto) shore.

This effect can result in a surface temperature of 22C dropping to 10C in a matter of hours, with the resulting effect that Lake Ontario water at Niagara-on-the-Lake is 22C and water up to 5 km from Toronto is 10C.

Details of the Surface Water Temperatures of the Great Lakes are available from the Great Lakes Environmental Research Laboratory, with each image involving typically 200 k-bytes of data. The temperatures are derived from the NOAA TIROS-N satellite using its scanning radiometer data - AVHRR (Advanced Very High Resolution Radiometer).

A typical example of such data is shown in the figure and the colour-coding in the original data permits temperature-specification to an accuracy of 1C. In this example, Lake Ontario is clearly visible, together with the combination of Lakes Simcoe and Couchiching.

Such data for all of the Great Lakes are available for several years; however, in practice, new data are not posted on a regular enough basis to be of use in planning swims. These data can be used a general guidelines for the choice of dates for training swims in areas not subject to such sudden changes in temperature as the western end of Lake Ontario.

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Created: 14th November 1999
Last Updated: 7th August 2004