Officials in Wasaga Beach are working hard to maintain physical distancing on the town’s namesake beaches, after hoards descended onto them over Canada Day.
The large crowds, most of whom were not wearing masks or staying two metres apart, made national headlines and were the hot topic on social media, with some dubbing it “the Florida of Ontario.” (The American state received media attention after footage emerged of packed beaches during Memorial Day weekend, amid the pandemic. Florida is currently reporting a record high number of new cases.)
Most of the beaches in Wasaga Beach are provincially owned, and the province has chosen not to close beaches this summer. Instead, half of the beach parking lots attached to beaches in Wasaga Beach were closed to discourage visitors from coming.
Deputy Fire Chief Craig Williams says the latest effort helped control the crowds this weekend, though there were still high volumes of people.
“In the busiest area, there was still not a whole lot of physical distancing,” he tells Yahoo Canada. “But compared to Canada Day, it was much better.”
As of Thursday, July 9, a section of the main beach owned by the municipality, known as Beach Drive, will be closed off from the public with barriers. The situation will be monitored in the coming weeks to determine when the area can be opened again.
“We saw behaviour on Beach Drive that was of concern to us, so we’ve taken steps to reduce the risk on the property the town owns,” says Williams. “The town doesn’t have control of provincial parks but we’ve sent our concerns to the province.”
There are also efforts to control the number of people on the beach with police enforcement and bylaw officers, along with additional signage.
“What we saw on Canada Day was that people weren’t making appropriate decisions for themselves and following the guidelines, so we now need to determine a strategy that will be followed,” says Williams.
He adds that there are other, lesser populated beaches in the town that visitors should consider exploring instead of the main ones.
William also suggests that visitors bring everything they need so they can avoid populating the town’s stores for supplies.
Faye Ego, president of Wasaga Beach Ratepayers Association, says so far, they haven’t received any complaints from local businesses. But she notes that while closing the beach parking lots might make an impact on numbers, she says it’s not clear whether the large private parking lots in the area will also be shut down. In the past, locals have parked their cars along private property to deter visitors from parking there.
“It’s happened in Wasaga forever and ever,” she says. “That’s a given on a hot weekend in a beach town.”