Swarms of people were seen gathering on a part of the beach in Wasaga Beach, Ont., on Canada Day, ignoring COVID-19 physical-distancing guidelines.
Izabella Gorski, 22, was staying at a cottage near Blue Mountains, Ont., and took a video of the town’s Beach 2 on Wednesday at about 3:30 p.m.
She’d arrived at Beach 3 at about noon, but then decided to walk toward beaches 1 and 2 to see what was there.
“We saw so many people in the water, so we were just walking toward Beach 2 and Beach 1 just out of pure curiosity,” Gorski said. “There was just, like, tons of people. It was completely different than Beach 3.”
When Gorski started walking toward the Beach 2 area, she said she was “shocked.”
“When we actually ended up at Beach 2 near the actual water, it was just crazy,” she said. “I was with my brother, and I was like, ‘Let’s get out of here.’ It was the one time I actually, genuinely was super nervous because everyone was just walking so close to each other.”
Gorski said she may have seen one person wearing a mask, and that many people weren’t separated by at least two metres. She also said she didn’t see any bylaw or police officers enforcing physical distancing.
“I only saw park rangers on the ATVs just passing by, but they weren’t even on the sandy area where most of the people were.”
The parks rangers are employed by Wasaga Beach Provincial Park, which is controlled by Ontario Parks. Only a portion of the beach is controlled by the Town of Wasaga Beach.
Since the Canada Day crowds, the town has decided to close the sand-covered portion of Beach Drive, the area that it has jurisdiction over, by July 9. It’s also chosen to immediately reduce its beachfront municipal parking spaces by 50 per cent.
Gorski said fewer parking spots could be helpful, although she said she saw people parking on the street on Canada Day.
“People were just parking on the side of the street. We didn’t see that anyone was ticketed,” she said. “The municipal parking lots — they were full, so people would just park their cars a bit further, walk up to the beach, and it was still packed.”
Wasaga Beach Mayor Nina Bifolchi has condemned the crowding at the beach and criticized the province for a lack of action when it comes to helping beachfront communities reopen amid the novel coronavirus pandemic.
“While I commend the province for its overall handling of the pandemic, they have left our community, and other beachfront communities in the province, to essentially fend for themselves,” Bifolchi said in a statement Thursday.
“There is not a provincial strategy to deal with the people visiting these beach communities.”
Bifolchi also said that police are “simply not going to the beachfront and enforcing the emergency orders.”
At a special council meeting Thursday, town council asked Bifolchi to write the Ontario Provincial Police to ask for additional resources to help enforce provincial orders on crowds at beach areas 1 and 2.
Other Wasaga Beach town officials have also criticized the crowds, with the deputy fire chief calling it “human behaviour at its worst.”