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Real estate agent Al Sinclair has been selling houses in the Beaches -- or is it the Beach? -- for 20 years.

"I have never had any one correct me and call it the Beaches, but many times I have been corrected to call it the Beach," says Mr. Sinclair, a member of the Balmy Beach Club in the east-end neighbourhood on the lake.

Now comes word -- by way of a poll released yesterday by the Beaches Business Improvement Area (BIA) -- that might seem to end the controversy.

Of 2,200 residents and merchants who voiced their opinion by telephone or Internet poll, 58 per cent favoured "the Beach" on new street signs to identify the neighbourhood whose spine is Queen Street East between Lockwood Avenue (just west of Woodbine) and Neville Park. The other 42 per cent voted for "the Beaches."

But not even the BIA, whose predecessor organization got into hot water in 1985 for proposing signs that read "the Beaches," is trying to put an end to the debate.

"We have no intention and even less desire to enforce this name on everything," says BIA chairman Neil Macdonald, whose own organization will retain Beaches in its official name.

"It's strictly for the street signs," he says.

The area is known for its four Lake Ontario beaches -- Woodbine, Kew, Scarborough and Balmy -- which will all be named on the new signs.

Like other local businesses, the Beaches BIA wants new signage, likely by this fall, to identify the neighbourhood for marketing purposes to city residents and visitors alike. But even when Tourism Toronto suggested the group rename itself the Beach, members of the BIA declined.

"The Greater Toronto Area knows it as the Beaches," says Mr. Macdonald, who emphasizes there will be no change in such well-known icons as the Beaches Jazz Festival and the Beaches branch of the Toronto Public Library. "Why mess with a good thing?"

What pleased Mr. Macdonald most about the poll was that 75 per cent favoured new signage, whatever it said.

For the record, The Globe and Mail Style Book made its choice long ago. "The Beaches, a Toronto neighbourhood."

Toronto deputy mayor Sandra Bussin, who represents the ward of Beaches-East York, grew up referring to her community as "the Beaches."

Knowing how political tempers flared in the past, she initially opted not to wade into the debate and urged the BIA to delay its poll until after the municipal election.

From now on, she promises to "do my best" to have the Beach roll off her tongue. But she adds she will continue to represent all her residents of Beaches-East York.

Is it the Beach or the Beaches? Businesses and institutions in the area fall into both camps, an unscientific sample shows.

The Beaches

Beaches Alternative School

Beaches Animal Hospital

Beaches Business &

Professionals Association

Beaches Chiropractic Centre

Beaches Conservatory Of

Music

Beaches-East York Riding

Beaches International Jazz

Festival

Beaches Living Guide

Beaches Presbyterian Church

Beaches Sports Centre

Toronto Beaches Lacrosse Club

Toronto Public Library --

Beaches Branch

The Beach

Beach Arts Centre

Beach Clinic

Beach Driving Academy

Beach Food Market

Beach Golf Classic

Beach Hardware

Beach Hebrew Institute

Beach Metro Community News

Beach Montessori School

Foot Care In the Beach

Kindergarten In the Beach

Zoo In The Beach