Blue Flags are popping up all over Ontario! What does a Blue Flag mean? It means that the beach or marina proudly flying the flag is clean, accessible, responsibly managed, and great for swimming – a must in the hot summer weather.

Environmental Defence brought the Blue Flag program to Canada in 2003, and the program’s success was made possible through a grant from the Ontario Trillium Foundation (OTF), an agency of the Government of Ontario. OTF provided critical funding in the early years of the program, enabling us to raise flags at four of Toronto’s beaches: Cherry, Hanlan’s Point, Ward’s Island and Woodbine. With OTF’s support, we galvanized city staff, community groups and members of the public to identify what would be needed at each beach to achieve certification, working with them to find tailored solutions at each beach.

For local residents, this visible recognition of their beaches’ quality meant that major cleanup and remediation efforts had been successful. It meant that families visiting the beach no longer had to face dirty water they could not swim in. Instead, they could enjoy clean water – and jump right in!

A decade later, Toronto has doubled its Blue Flag beaches and there are nine more Blue Flags flying throughout the province. The program is growing significantly in Ontario thanks to OTF’s new grant, approved in 2013, to grow and strengthen the Blue Flag program’s provincial presence.

Within the first year of the grant, two new Blue Flag beaches in Ontario achieved Blue Flag certification: Canatara Park Beach in Sarnia and Waubuno Beach in Parry Sound. In addition, the grant is enabling Environmental Defence to work with beaches and marinas that have committed to working toward meeting the criteria for certification (known as “candidates”). It is also enabling us to raise awareness and conduct feasibility studies in new communities with the aim of increasing the number of communities joining the program in the next several years.

We use a tailored approach to helping communities meet the program’s 33 stringent criteria for certification. Depending on the needs of each beach or marina, Environmental Defence may help with ecosystems and shoreline restoration, native species protection and/or invasive species removal, water quality management, environmental education initiatives, safety and accessibility features, and more.

Thea Silver, Program Manager (Province-wide) and Strategy Lead, Environment Sector at OTF has this to say:

“We are pleased to help more Ontario beaches work toward, and be recognized for, excellent environmental and safety standards. We feel that this program has significant community impact and promotes a culture of environmental sustainable and responsible stewardship throughout the province. We are thrilled to have been part of the effort to bring the program to Ontario and a decade later, we are pleased to see the program reach increasing numbers of communities throughout our province.”

The Blue Flag’s growth in Ontario is fuelling interest elsewhere in Canada, with the program now inspiring communities coast-to-coast to participate.  Thank you, OTF!