The Toronto Sun - Sun, April 15, 200
By Christina Blizzard

Private beaches not just in Malibu

Great Lakes shoreline in danger of becoming playground for rich

Hot summer beach days may be just a tantalizing memory right now.

Trust me, though, summer is just around the corner. The May two-four weekend is only five weeks away. And we all know what that means don't we?

Yep, the battle for paradise will be on once again. On Georgian Bay particularly, there is an ongoing battle of private vs public ownership of some of the most beautiful beachfront property in our province.

Where once gorgeous beaches such as Balm Beach were considered public treasures, increasingly, signs are going up as beachfront cottagers claim them as private. Incredibly, one beachfront cottager on Balm has built a substantial fence across the beach -- blocking access to the public.

What was once a localized issue is rapidly growing. Niagara Falls MPP Kim Craitor introduced a private member's bill in the Legislature last week that would ensure public access to Great Lakes beaches. What prompted the proposed new bill, Craitor says, was a trip to Crystal Beach in his riding.

"A number of people had decided there that they were taking ownership of the beaches and have put up fences right to the water and had put up signs saying you couldn't walk along the beach," he said in a recent interview.

"When I did a little more research I realized it was happening all across the province," he said.

"I certainly respect people who live along there and have property and want to have a sense of security and enjoyment, but on the other hand, people should be able to walk along the beach," Craitor said.

One person who has led the fight for the beaches is Kathy Spears. Her year-round home in Perkinsfield is just a short walk to a glorious Georgian Bay beach. Yet over the past decade she has watched in dismay as the public's long held right to access to that beach has been gradually eroded -- ironically by cottagers from Toronto. Spears was propelled to become a beach access activist in 1999, when she was asked by police to pick up her towel and move on from her place on the sand.

Spears is encouraged by Craitor's bill -- although the new law would permit "walk along," access only. It wouldn't permit beachgoers to sunbathe, picnic or play volleyball on the beach. And it wouldn't allow any kind of motorized vehicle on the beach.

"With this right of passage bill, what we are hoping is that it will stop fences from obstructing the access onto the beaches and we are hoping it is a first step toward the government actually recognizing public rights and hopefully they will step forward and assist us in keeping up our fight to use the beaches," Spears said. (Check out her web site at

Don't hold your breath. A provincial mediator appointed by the previous Tory government failed to come up with a solution that was acceptable to both sides -- despite spending more than $400,000.


Many people who are losing their right to beach access are year-round residents of Tiny Township whose families have been using the beaches for decades. They balked at a suggestion by the mediator that they should give up what they've been doing for decades -- playing and picnicking on the beach, in favour of walk-through access only.

Spears is frustrated that Attorney General Michael Bryant has dismissed her appeal for help saying the issue should be dealt with at the municipal level.

That's a cop-out. Development of a precious natural resource such as our Great Lakes beaches should not be decided by a patchwork of municipalities. We need legislation to secure public access to what should be a national treasure. Sadly, private member's bills rarely become law -- and Craitor's is unlikely to make it through the Legislature before the House rises for the fall election.

Around the world, beaches are treated as public assets for everyone to enjoy. Many U.S. states put this province to shame in the way they promote public enjoyment of the coastline. In Massachusetts, the great legacy of the Kennedy family is Cape Cod's National Seashore, where strict housing controls limit private development to protect the fragile dunes. And everyone is free to enjoy their beauty -- not just the privileged few who can afford a seaside cottage.

Of course, homeowners have property rights. But this province's water belongs to all of us. And our beaches and all their natural beauty are not something to be enclosed for the private use of an elite few. They should be preserved and protected for all of us.


4-15-07 - The Toronyo Sun


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