‘Right of Passage’ remains a sore point for many beachgoers along Ontario shores of Lake Erie

‘PRIVATE PROPERTY … . Please use only the public beach area. THANK YOU!’  – a sign along the beach shores

A Commentary by Doug Draper

Posted September 3rd, 2017 on Niagara At Large

Niagara, Ontario – One sunny warm weekend earlier this August, I took a short trip with a few others in the Fort Erie area to the shores of Lake Erie to take a walk along a beach.

I had not been to a Lake Erie beach for a while and as odd as it may seem for someone who lives in the Niagara region, I have probably done more walks along the beaches of Cape Cod, Massachusetts over the past two or three years than I’ve done along the beaches of our Great Lakes over the past 20 or 30.

Odd, except that I’ve got a number of friends who live or vacation out on Cape Cod and, as I was reminded during that recent trip to a beach along Lake Erie, the beaches along the Cape, where lining the shores are some of the most expensive homes you can find on the continent, are far more inviting to visitors and residents alike.

The beach I visited this August – one of a handful of municipal beaches along the Niagara, Ontario shores of Lake Erie – was more typical of the experience I’ve had at beaches here for most of the past 20 or 30 years.  

The parking was okay – at least the lot was paved – and there was a portable restroom for anyone who might need to go and would rather take a chance enduring the atmosphere in one of those than going in the trunk of their car. Then, when we walked down to the beach, it was just like old times.

A beach along the Ontario shores of Lake Erie near Crystal Beach in Fort Erie. Photo by Doug Draper

There was a stretch of beach about the width of half a football field or less where most of the people were gathered and, on either side, there were the chain-link fences running half way down from walls of boulders ….cottages, to the water line. On each fence were the signs reading; ‘PRIVATE PROPERTY – The entire area between the water and every home is private property. Please use only the public beach area. THANK YOU!’

No thanks to the sign and fence at all, said a number of beachgoers I talked to when I snapped a few pictures of these unwelcome barriers to what might have been a nice, long walk in the sand along the lakeshore. It’s fine for people to own homes along the shore, a number of those I talked to said, but should their backyards include the whole beach right down to the water?

And even if – by whatever laws are on the books – the backyards do include the entire stretch of sand right down to the water, why not do what they do on Cape Cod where there are also laws about house owners have some custody up to certain tide lines, there are ways around erecting fences to keep people out.njo

No fences to stop you along this stretch of beach along the shores of Cape Cod, Massachusetts where I can walk for miles. Just follow the rules and enjoy. File photo b y Doug Draper

Just have the entrance to beaches posted with a set of rules with fines assigned to littering, starting bonfires or whatever else the town and people living in the area don’t want to see happening along the shores. And if the rules are broken, there are municipal bylaw officers or, if necessary, police people can call and report the offense to.

While I was talking to one group of people about their views on all this, someone came over and told us that a few women, who had just gone around one of the fences for a longer walk along the beach, were approached by someone who called himself a private security guard for the homeowners and told them that if they wanted to walk beyond the fence, they would have to get off the sand and wade in the water.

I left the group to look for this so-called security guard but he was gone.

Over the past few months, I had some comments sent to this Niagara At Large site by readers who were sharing their views on a story posted here six years ago on this same issue.

Kim Craitor, a Niagara Falls, Ontario city council and former provincial member of parliament, tried at least twice to get a bill passed in Ontario, granting people more access to Great Lakes beaches.

“I’m getting tired of greedy cottage owners that (in their perfect world) would own the land, the beach, the water, the sky above, and everything they could get their hands on… just to have it all for themselves,” said one of the readers this August in response to that story, still available online and posted on Niagara At Large in the spring of 2011.

The story focused on a private members bill that then Niagara Falls MPP Kim Craitor (now a Niagara Falls city councillor) had tabled before the provincial legislature, asking the Ontario government to reform laws that, at least in some cases, go back more than 100 years so that people have more “right of passage” to beaches along the province’s side Great Lakes.

Ontario is blessed,” said Craitor when he tabled what was titled the; ‘Great Lakes Shoreline Right of Passage Act’ or Bill 32 for short in May of that year . “It has great stretches of fabulous sand beaches, especially along our Great Lakes … but the right of passage on Ontario beaches is truly ill-defined (and) the result is that … our children (and others) are being denied a right of passage, both literally and figuratively.”

That bill, like one or two earlier ones that Craitor, who was an MPP on the government side at the house at the time, tabled for consideration, was obviously never approved.

So here we still are with the unwelcoming fences and signs and people called themselves security guards telling those who want to take a longer stroll beyond the fence lines that they will have to wade in the water and stay off the sand.

To read the story posted on Niagara At Large in 2011 on this issue, click on https://niagaraatlarge.com/2011/05/20/ontario-citizens-should-have-%E2%80%98right-of-passage%E2%80%99-to-shorelines-of-our-great-lakes-%E2%80%93-kim-craitor/ .

NIAGARA AT LARGE encourages you to join the conversation by sharing your views on this post in the space below the Bernie quote.

A reminder that we only post comments by individuals who also share their first and last names.

For more news and commentary from Niagara At Large – an independent, alternative voice for our greater bi-national Niagara region – become a regular visitor and subscriber to NAL at www.niagaraatlarge.com .

 “A politician thinks of the next election. A leader thinks of the next generation.” – Bernie Sanders

8 responses to “  ‘Right of Passage’ remains a sore point for many beachgoers along Ontario shores of Lake Erie

  1. As I recall, I’ve walked miles along beaches on Lakes Huron and Superior with no obstacles or signs. Is this unique to southern Ontario and a particular demographic of “cottagers”? I recall when the fences went out 20 feet or more so you had to go waist deep into the water to go around them and people would come out and threaten you with big dogs and tell you to get out. I would just walk with my feet on the water’s edge and ignore them and they would shut up. What can they do, shoot you? They can’t own the water. My understanding was that the beaches are public to the HIGH water mark which is certainly not at the water’s edge as is obvious by the break walls so many have constructed. If someone is disruptive or destructive, call the cops. Places like Wasaga Beach have patrols for such purposes.

    Why can we not have public access to our OWN Great Lakes, especially when many of the property owners trying to prevent it aren’t even Canadian? The same with Point Abino, a historic lighthouse with gates across the road and a sentry. Ridiculous. If you go north to Cape Croker, Cape Clark or other lighthouses on the Bruce Peninsula, there is complete public access. One year I did a tour of most of them but I cannot access the one in my own back yard. What is wrong with our spineless municipal and provincial politicians?


  2. Too bad Parliament was shut down before the 3rd reading.. it would have passed third reading. Wayne Gates our MPP should take over where Craitor left off.. i wish he would do so..


  3. Has the Niagara Regional Council not been involved in this travesty or is the Council responsible for it??? Just Asking because I think they should be the ajudicators of this mess.


  4. Kim Craitor got the ball going on the Right of passage bill it got second reading when parliament was prorogued shut down .Wayne Gates our current MPP should bring it back to the table. C’mon Wayne..


  5. A few years ago I was kayaking with some friends on Lake Erie near Sherkston. When we stopped for lunch on the beach a woman marched out of her cottage and with an arrogant aire of authority ordered us to leave. We had barely stepped out of our kayaks when she was on us like a vulture on a cow carcass. When we explained that we had only stopped for a quick “leave no trace” lunch break she hurried back to her cottage and came back out with a string of buoys and proceeded to establish them well into the lake to show us where her property ended and again commanded that we leave. We still didn’t move, preferring to watch her stroke out. Ya just can’t buy that kind of entertainment!


    • Gee Carla, hope you didn’t break “her” beach.

      Wouldn’t it be nice if a few of the municipal and provincial (even federal) politicians came on here to explain their stance and lack of action or posted their own rationale regarding the ongoing problem. It is not as if they are unaware of this. It’s gone on for a century!


  6. Fire pits built any darn place. Burning fires left unattended. Broken glass. Strewn clothing. Dog krap. Garbage.

    Having grown up on a property on which the deed stated ownership was to the waters edge, I have experienced all of the above and more left behind by those who believe themselves entitled to take what belongs to others.

    Most people take care of what they’ve worked to buy.
    “One of the hardest things in life is to appreciate the value of something you got for nothing.” – Larry Elder

    If you truly want to know why the lakes, rivers, and oceans are polluted… why the Ogallala Aquifer is empty… and our air is full of unbreathable toxins… look up The Tragedy of the Commons.


  7. Just one more thought on this topic. There is a high level disturbance of migratory shorebirds along the water front by both people and their dogs.


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