TORONTO - The Covidiots moved North from Florida beaches to Wasaga. No better way to cool down and enjoy the summer sun than a day at the beach. Just 145 km north of Toronto, Wasaga Beach is a popular destination spot for Torontonians and people looking for a beach get-a-way.
Last week, throngs of people descended upon the town of Wasaga Beach to celebrate Canada Day. If the beautiful weather wasn’t enough to get people out, the free parking at Ontario parks on Canada Day sweetened the deal. In a town with a population of around 23,000, Wasaga Beach Provincial Park attracts an average of 2 million visitors a year.
Crowds of beach goers did not adhere to physical distancing measures. A sight mirrored at beaches across the US (now experiencing a surge in Covid-19 cases) where people celebrated the 4th of July holiday.
With regards to Canada Day revellers at Wasaga Beach, Deputy Fire Chief Craig Williams said “we saw human behaviour at its worst”. Visitors displayed a blatant disregard of provincial emergency orders and gathered in groups larger than ten.
In a concerned effort to protect the health and safety of the town’s residents, the town council voted late last week to close access to the sand-covered portion of Beach Drive effective July 9. The number of parking stops were also reduced by 50% as a measure to help with crowd control.
The town has asked the Ontario Provincial Police to help enforce the province’s emergency directives on social gatherings.
The town’s Mayor, Nina Bifolchi, sent a letter last week to Chief Superintendent Dwight Peer, Regional Commander-Central Region, of the Ontario Provincial Police (OPP) requesting enforcement of the province’s emergency orders of large groups of people congregating on the beach. The Mayor said in the letter there was a “…complete lack of enforcement of the order by the OPP and Park Wardens”. This had been observed over the weekends prior to and on July 1st.
The “beach” in not owned by the Town of Wasaga Beach, but rather owned and operated by the Government of Canada. Enforcement of provincial emergency orders fall on the OPP and Ontario Park Wardens.
Critics say the town should have been more prepared for the influx of visitors and should have considered hiring pay duty officers. If that were the case, the taxpayers of Wasaga Beach would be footing the cost for a job carried out by the OPP and Park Wardens.
The Mayor also wrote to Premier Ford raising concerns about the influx of people in the community. The Mayor asked that the Ontario government work with the town to develop a strategy to help manage the situation. We reached out to the Mayor’s Office for further comment but did not receive a response prior to going to print.
The only response from Premier Ford came in a news conference last Friday saying he had no intention of closing Ontario beaches and asked people to just use “common sense”.
In efforts to help keep local resident and visitors safe from spreading the virus, consider a less crowded stretch of beach to enjoy.