Beach enhancement special report: Making beach more accessible will drive more money into businesses

John Dehondt
Lambton Shores Ward 1 councillor
Chair of beach enhancement committee

As told to Casey Lessard

Everybody likes the beach the way it is. We want to improve the parking lot and give some additional reasons to go to the beach. People want us to spend money on the main street. What people forget is there are two components to the main street: there’s the component the municipality owns, so the street, curbs, sidewalks, trees, light standards, benches, and all the things that make the town look nice; we can change all of those. What we can’t change are the buildings themselves. That’s driven by economics. The only way to drive more money into their businesses is by somehow making our beach more accessible to more people so we have a bigger shoulder season.
The motivation for changing the beach is the same motivation we have for changing the main street. If we can start doing different things in our parking lots to make it look nicer, make it more accessible for challenged people, and attract more families with young children, it would also impact how our main street looks.
We didn’t prioritize the beach over the main street. They’re being done at the same time. We have a main street meeting in January. The beach is the thrust because if you can bring more families, empty nesters and grandparents, they are the ones with money. They come to the beach, shop at the shops and eat at the restaurants. By changing the beach slightly, we hope to bring more money into the main street.
Because the beach is a seasonal thing, we want to stretch the season out. We have our main season from mid-June to Labour Day; we need to develop our shoulder seasons. If we can draw people to the beach to do things other than swim, through festivals and the play area, we can extend that season. At the end of the turnaround, we’re going to build an area where we can do festivals, much like the Burgerfest last year. If we have the area to do that, we will attract people to run and attend the events.
One of the things that kept coming up was that there’s no place for kids to go when the water’s rough or when the beach is posted. So we looked at alternate means of getting people wet in the summertime. When people think of the play park, they think of waterslides, lots of noise and waves. It’s not that at all. Basically it’s a rubber pad with four or five spigots that are a little taller than a person and they spray water. There will be a couple things you can direct, but that’s about it. Water comes from the municipality. It needs a beach application, but it will help people wash off instead of going to the beach house. In the old days we also had a swing set and slides, and we want to bring some of that back. People think this children’s area is going to block the beach. It’s not. There will be benches there to sit at and watch the sunset, and I think it’s going to be a really nice enhancement.
We also need to clean our lake. Lambton Shores wraps around the lake, but a lot of pollutants come from other areas. A lot of our pollutants come from the farming community, our aging septic systems, the way some industries treat our lake like a sewer. Those things all need to be addressed by big government. We have a Clean Water Now initiative headed by Rotary, and they’ve set up a water monitoring system. It monitors the wind-wave-water conditions and determines what led to the beach being posted.
The overall goal is that we end up in a better position. People are saying it’s a water park on a sandy beach. We know that. The engineering is structured to deal with that. The water that is going in there will irrigate and feed some of the plants that will be there to control the sand. We’re going to put in a green roof on the beach house so that will reduce long-term wear and tear on the building. Our elevator is going in this December, and we’re very excited about that. One of the criticisms is that it’s in a hostile environment and it won’t last as long as it would in the city of Toronto. So what? So what if it has a shorter lifespan; so what if it needs a little more oil and grease? That’s part of allowing the citizens of Lambton Shores to enjoy what all of us other people enjoy.