Sauble Beach is one of the most popular beaches in Ontario. In its natural state many years ago it must have been a wonderful sight: sand dunes stretching almost as far as the eye can see in a long, gentle crescent along the eastern shore of Lake Huron, one of the largest of The Great Lakes. Its sunsets are legendary.
By the mid-20th Century the beach and nearby resort community were well on their way to becoming the destination of choice for thousands of summer tourists, easily 25,000 or more on a summer weekend. Some estimates reach as high as 100,000.
But the recent deaths of two people within the space of less than a month has exposed shocking gaps in the lifesaving services and equipment readily available in the event of emergencies, especially in the water. Hindsight is 20-20 as the old saying goes, but one would think those numbers of people should have made the need for improved services pretty obvious by now.
Any number of photos of the crowded beach and waters on a typical summer day should have been enough, as in the proverbial “a picture is worth a thousand words.”
No one may ever really know if 28-year-old Bradley Liani on July 23, or 57-year-old Becky McArthur on August 8 might have survived if trained people with automated external defibrillators (AEDs) had been able to respond almost immediately. In both cases, bystanders with CPR skills worked hard to revive the stricken people after they were taken from the water until paramedics arrived. Efforts to find a business with an AED were to no avail.
Witnesses spoke of it taking paramedics 10 to 15 minutes to arrive on the scene Monday, though Bruce County Paramedic Services records say it took them seven minutes. On July 23 a man at the beach who helped try to revive Mr. Liani said it was 20 minutes before paramedics and police arrived. Firefighters from either the Municipality of South Bruce Peninsula, or the Saugeen First Nation were not dispatched.
The July 23 incident took place on the southern portion of Sauble Beach in Saugeen territory. The remaining portion of the beach, north of the iconic Sauble signpost, is in South Bruce Peninsula. But the Saugeen First Nation has long claimed the northern section should be part of its territory, based on 175-year-old survey records. In 2014 the federal Justice Department came out in support of the Saugeen position and suggested a mediated settlement of the claim. That settlement would have included co-management of the beach by the First Nation and South Bruce Peninsula. But any possibility of a mediated deal fell through when many Sauble Beach residents and business people strongly disputed the idea of the First Nation getting title to the rest of the beach. They made their views known in the next municipal election a few months later when the incumbent mayor and council were voted out of office.
To what if any extent the divided jurisdiction of Sauble Beach stands in the way of better lifesaving services at Sauble Beach, and how much co-management might have helped if set up by now is an open question.
But it’s certainly clear enough now something needed to be done, sooner than later, to look at the service needs, and then take decisive action. A co-management group charged with and focussed on that responsibility might have made it happen.
But for now, kudos to newly-elected Saugeen First Nation Chief Lester Anoquot for his obviously heartfelt concern about the need for better lifesaving services on the Saugeen side of the beach.
“It is a very huge concern for me and it weights heavy on my mind and I certainly am going to address this issue as quickly as possible,” Anoquot told Sun Times reporter Scott Dunn in an interview for an article that appeared in The Sun Times earlier this week.
Anoquot said volunteer firefighters equipped with AEDs were to start patrolling the Saugeen side of Sauble Beach on weekends, from 9 am to 6 pm.
Anoquot also said lifesaving equipment like life-rings and throw-ropes will be stationed along the beach. He spoke of placing AEDs at the three beach entrances. He anticipated Saugeen council will act quickly to approve the safety improvements.
The AED patrols and availability is especially a good idea, and a good start. It should also happen on the South Bruce Peninsula side.
I suggest co-management is long overdue, no matter what happens to the Saugeen land claim. One way or another, the First Nation and the municipality should look at getting together to create lifesaving stations, with trained lifeguards on the beach in the summer season.
A version of this was originally published in The Sun Times in August, 2016