Beach enhancement special report: The view from town hall

John Byrne
CAO Lambton Shores

As told to Casey Lessard

This is probably one of the heaviest-used (per capita) beaches in Ontario. We want people that come to this community to see we’re on the leading edge: we’re a progressive community; we’re environmentally sensitive; we’re doing things about reintroducing its natural landscape.
The beach is probably our most important tourism asset. It hasn’t had a lot of attention brought to it in terms of supporting infrastructure: the parking lot, the beach house, and the services that get people there such as the road network.
You don’t want to kill the goose that laid the golden egg. Tourism is critical. But there is a demographic shift here, and that’s why we’re beginning to see a change in some of the restaurants and businesses that are locating here. The permanent population can support them throughout the year. Nationally our demographic is changing to an older population, so that’s going to affect our status as a youth-oriented tourism destination.
I’m not beating the drum against the youth culture, but there are costs associated with that including additional policing costs that come out of our taxes, increased by-law enforcement, increased maintenance that come with vandalism and garbage.
We need to reinvest in our important asset, the beach. We can accommodate both younger people and families, but how do we make better use of the beach? The beach isn’t being well utilized the way it’s laid out. It’s all public beach from the harbour mouth to Oakwood. There are rights of way that are granted to property owners that abut on the beach. They have the right to cross and use the water. But it’s the community’s beach we’re trying to protect for everybody. It’s not a private beach, as some people would like to have it structured. It’s about reclaiming it for everybody.
It’s becoming increasingly challenging for older people to enjoy the beach. Sand is a difficult thing to maneuver on. The promenade allows people to come down here in the evening and go for a stroll to watch the sunset and enjoy it.
The other component was making this beach accessible to people with disabilities. We’re investing in an elevator to the upper level of the beach house, which has denied access to people with disabilities before.
People have short-term memories. There was a children’s play area down there. The lake can be a very challenging and dangerous place. Not only from the winds and wave actions but also the water quality. We deal with fluctuations in E. coli bacteria for a variety of reasons. Can we introduce an alternative for a family that comes to the area, has booked a hotel for the week, wants to enjoy the beach and finds the beach is posted? What will they do with their kids? A splash pad has the capacity so that when the weather and water conditions are such that it’s not advisable to swim in the lake, that you can at least have some fun down here.
At the last meeting, there was a loud roar of applause when somebody said, “Stay off our beach.” I think people need to reexamine the drawings that clearly demonstrate that we’re respecting that natural sand area. We are respecting the beach. Less than two or three per cent of what’s being proposed impacts the beach with the concrete infrastructure we’re going to add. It’s all on the existing parking area.
We heard loud and clear from Blue Flag that Grand Bend isn’t a natural beach. It’s a man-made beach. The trees and the dunes that were traditionally there have been eradicated. We are going to reclaim that beach and reintroduce in a controlled way the natural environment of the dunes that used to be there.
This is the community’s jewel in its crown. Right now, it doesn’t look much like a jewel. Quite frankly, we need to get our act together. It’s a starting point for other changes the community needs. That’s why we’re doing the community improvement plans. The downtown area is a market-driven area. It’s not the same as the beach. The beach is our legacy, our signature of who we are. Grand Bend beach defines what this community is about.