Bring Back Lifeguards to Wasaga Beach

If you were visiting the South Georgian Bay region over the Canada Day holiday weekend, you may have seen new billboards promoting bringing back lifeguards to Wasaga Beach.

Over the Canada Day long weekend, thousands of people travelled to Wasaga Beach to beat the excessive heat.

Lifeguard Program at Wasaga Beach Disappeared in the late 1990’s

There was a time that the Wasaga Beach Patrol lifeguards played a dominant role in promoting safety in the water along the world’s longest fresh water beach. The familiar lifeguard towers disappeared from the beach when the program was terminated in the late 1990’s.

The former lifeguard program had 24 lifeguards, 12 lifeguard towers, and two boats monitoring the 14-km beach.

Now, a group is working hard to put pressure on the local municipal and provincial governments to see lifeguards return to Wasaga Beach.

The web site states that in the wake of multiple drownings at both Wasaga Beach and other high profile beaches in Ontario, it feels it is time the lifeguard program at Wasaga Beach is reinstated.

“We need your help. We need people to put more pressure on local and provincial governments to make the change.”

Former Wasaga Beach Lifeguard John Watt wants to see lifeguards returned to Wasaga Beach
–photo courtesy

John Watt is responsible for the new billboards. Mr. Watt is the former Director of Municipal Parks and Recreation in Ontario SDMRO, and he was a lifeguard at Wasaga Beach for three summers from the late 1960s to the early 1970s.

He told reporter Mike Walker from CTV News Barrie that he wants to see the lifeguards returned to Wasaga Beach.

“It’s time. How many more lives need to be lost? We’re frustrated. Almost 30 lives have been lost and more are going to happen so this is what the public does when politicians and people in power don’t do the right thing.”

Triple Olympic Medalist Elaine Tanner O.C., swimming 1968 Mexico. Officer of the Order of Canada. OC. First woman to ever win an Olympic swimming medal for Canada.
–photo courtesy

Elaine Tanner is a multiple Olympic & Commonwealth Medalist and International Sports Hall of Fame member. She blazed a path for Canadian swimming athletes internationally, helping to build a foundation of excellence for others to follow.

Tanner is working with Watt to help move the conversation forward to return lifeguards to Wasaga Beach.

The Town of Wasaga Beach manages Beach Area’s One and Two, having taken over the management responsibilities from the provincial government in 2017.

Wasaga Beach Mayor Brian Smith Points To Costs challenges decisions made by Wasaga Beach Council.

“After years of work lobbying both provincial and town representatives, it appeared that the lifeguards would in fact be back in 2018. That however, did not happen. Once the jurisdiction for the program was handed down to the Town of Wasaga, Town council voted NOT to reinstate the lifeguard program. Citing cost as the factor they chose instead to install woefully inadequate warning signs and life rings on posts instead.”

Mayor Brian Smith Deputy Mayor Nina Bifolchi, Wasaga Beach
Wasaga Beach Mayor Brian Smith and Deputy Mayor Nina Bifolchi both say that educating the public with regards to water safety is important

Wasaga Beach Mayor Brian Smith told CTV News Barrie that council is still working on a solution.

“Unfortunately the dollars and cents at this point do not work very well. Council is working up towards getting to that point.”

Smith said educating the public is important.

Wasaga Beach Deputy Mayor Nina Bifolchi agrees. Bifolchi says water safety education will help citizens and visitors enjoy safe swimming at the beach.

“I would support consideration to review a waterfront safety program if the municipality continues to manage the beach looking to find the most effective ways to educate residents and visitors on water safety. Better signage at areas such as the river mouth to warn people of the danger along with the signage on our beachfront is a good start.”

It is understandable that the funding of a lifeguard program at Wasaga Beach represents a meaningful discussion at the council table.

Michael McWilliam, Fire Chief, Director of Emergency Management for theTown of Wasaga Beach has shared the following statistics in light of the recent attention surrounding this issue.

• 9 drownings in Wasaga Beach in last 10 years
• 7 of the 9 occurred during the summer season (May 24 – Sept 1)
• 2 of the 7 summer drownings occurred in the RIVER
• 4 of the 5 summer BEACH drownings were in NEW Wasaga
• 1 occurred at Beach Area 1 well east of Spruce Street towards the Point

The Town of Wasaga Beach has added four new life saving stations with life saving equipment in Beach areas one and two. New signs warn people not to swim near the mouth of the Nottawasaga River due to serious currents.

While these measures taken by Wasaga Beach could be very helpful in an emergency situation, wants more.

In 2017, a petition saw more than 1400 signatures of concerned people share in the memory of drowning victims.

Watt states on the web site that visitors wrongly assume the shallow water along the beach doesn’t pose much of a risk, but in fact Wasaga Beach is very deceptive.

“You have the long sandbar, so you think you can venture out forever. But there’s an offshore breeze, so a guy on an air mattress can suddenly find himself far out in the bay and unable to fight the current. Then he panics and falls off and thinks the sandbars are still touchable, but they aren’t. There’s a huge drop-off. We used to bring in people in those situations every day.” is asking for help from people who share the view that lifeguards would make Wasaga Beach a more enjoyable, safer place for families to enjoy.

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