Beachside town mayors urge Ontarians to stay home this May 24 weekend

Two young women sit and talk in a lifeguard tower in Grand Bend, Ontario. Mark Spowart / The Canadian Press

If you’re making plans for the Victoria Day long weekend, be sure they don’t include a trip to southwestern Ontario’s beaches.

That’s the hope from a pair of beachside town mayors who are urging would-be daytrippers to stay home as the province gears up for another May 24 amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

Read more: COVID-19: As cases climb, Peterborough MOH urges no travel during Victoria Day weekend

Current restrictions allow folks to take physically distanced walks along beaches, but sunbathing, swimming, picnics or anything else that involves lingering or congregating is off-limits.

Bill Weber is the mayor of Lambton Shores, which covers Grand Bend, one of Ontario’s most popular beaches.

He said bylaw officers will have zero tolerance for anything that violates COVID-19 restrictions over the long weekend.

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“We’re asking people [to] continue to follow the provincial stay-at-home order, I don’t know what part of ‘stay at home’ some people don’t understand,” said Weber.

“If you’ve got a back deck, if you’ve got a patio behind your home, if you have a park very close to where you live, stay there and enjoy that… it’s as simple as that.”

Sally Martyn serves as mayor for Central Elgin, which covers Port Stanley.

The mayor said bylaw officers will be taking an educational approach in regard to potential violations, but noted “that isn’t always adhered to.”

“Already we’ve been having issues because a lot of people are going down to sunbathe and picnic and camp out,” Martyn said.

“We’ve done very well in our area as far as keeping COVID numbers down, but even the locals feel a bit threatened when a lot of people come from far away, and we’ve had already a lot from Toronto and Windsor.”

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Read more: COVID-19: Parks Canada delays opening of Trent-Severn Waterway, most visitor services in Ontario

Martyn added that Port Stanley, along with all beaches in Elgin County, including Port Bruce, Port Burwell and Port Glasgow, will close its public parking lots over the long weekend. This closure will also affect boat launches on beaches.

Electronic signs will be placed on roadways leading to Port Stanley to inform drivers of the parking lot closures.

“Don’t even take a drive through, because you will find you will be stuck in traffic if you do,” Martyn said.

‘My prediction is absolute chaos and pandemonium’

The decision to close public parking lots has forced GT’s on the Beach owner Carol Gates to close the beachside restaurant in Port Stanley for the long weekend.

Gates worries that by closing public parking lots, vehicles will spew over into the private parking lots of businesses such as her own, park on the streets of local homes or cause heavy congestion in nearby roadways.

“I’m truly scared for what might happen if emergency services need to get down here… we don’t feel like it’s safe for our staff to even get to work or get out,” Gates said.

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The restaurant owner said people have already been creating problems in the week leading up to Victoria Day, despite the risk of being slapped with a parking ticket.

“People don’t mind paying $40, they just think of it as the cost of parking.”

GT’s on the Beach has decided to close for the long weekend following a decision to close public parking lots at Port Stanley. Sawyer Bogdan / Global News

Gates said a better plan from the municipality would have been to keep public parking lots open in hopes of allowing traffic to flow faster through the area.

“Try to educate them to come for a walk on the beach, get some takeout and go home, I think that would’ve been a much, much better approach,” Gates said.

“My prediction is absolute chaos and pandemonium… people are coming anyway, the beach is open, it’s only the parking lots that are closed.”

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