Whose sand is that between your toes? - Denny Scott editorial
Our weekly editorial board meetings at The Citizen are a font of great ideas, and we just have to pick the best three. At last week’s meeting, Publisher Deb Sholdice suggested we tackle the issue at Ipperwash, where cottagers are fighting with beach users and the age-old question of “who owns the beach” is once again being discussed.
Deb handled the issue well, however I wanted to take a deeper look at it because it hit close to (my second) home for me. I filed it in my memory until I had time to address it properly. And, to be honest, I also wanted to handle it my own way which will contain far more critical words.
The issue came back to mind over the weekend as my family and I were camping north of ‘The Bruce’ and walking along a cottage road with a rocky shoreline to the left and all manner of cottages to the right. It was then I wondered, “Who owns that stretch of rocky lakeshore?”
I’ve got a little history with cottages, lakes and beaches, coming from a family with a second-row cottage to visit when I was growing up. I also have sat in on councils discussing the problem. Also, my wife, who plans most of our camping trips, has a passion for finding lakes and rivers to dip her toes in, so for the past few years I’ve been seeing a lot more lakes than
just the stretch of Lake Huron from Grand Bend to Goderich that I frequented in my youth.
And with all that experience behind me, I think I can safely say the problem of who owns the beach is a ridiculous one.
The idea of those first-row or beach-front cottage owners owning the beach, any part of it, is stupid. Unfortunately, my incredibly down-to-earth (down-to-sand?) and reasonable take on this issue is stymied by the stupidity of bureaucracy.
When I was younger I was under the impression, thanks to a lot of misinformed people, that the beach is owned by some level of the government, but apparently that’s just the water and, depending on what a deed says, someone may own to the water, or to the high-water line or to the beach itself. That lack of consistency is what causes all these problems and what gives some (spoiled) people the idea that they can erect fences and dominate something that everyone should have a right to.
I have sympathy for people who have to clean up “their” section of the beach because visitors had a party there last night, but, let me tell you, that’s not just a beach problem. That happens all over the place. These cottage owners just feel like it’s a problem unique to them because they suffer from what some people call protagonist’s disease - being under the illusion that they are the most important people in the story of the world and everyone else is there as an antagonist or supporting member of the cast.
They have all forgotten some of those golden rules we learned about when we were in daycare or preschool or kindergarten, like sharing and doing unto others. Am I some communist or socialist saying everything belongs to everyone? No, but I am a guy who has let the neighbours cross his property for years now because it’s safer than having kids walk alongside County Road 25. I’m a guy who knows how to share.
The beaches and lakes of Ontario represent utility and beauty that is too important not to share and, not to get all Pocahontas on everyone, but, at some point, the earth isn’t just something we can all claim. At some point, we have to realize that, whether it’s lakewater, groundwater, beaches or green spaces, the things that bring people to our communities need to be accessible, otherwise we’re going to be relying on manufactured tourism, and look at how that fared over the lockdowns.
Back to the beaches specifically – my biggest issue with the entire problem is that either level of government, federal or provincial, could easily fix this problem: the government could say regardless of what deeds say, beaches are no longer land
that can be owned and are all property of, for example, the Ministry of Natural Resources. They have that power. I guess, however, they’d rather see us all squabbling like children, demanding to know by whose right someone owns a beach and refusing to share what we have. Maybe it’s time we all go back to kindergarten.