Keeping up with the beaches

Sandbanks is a popular place, and one of the County’s biggest tourism draws. That should be a good thing, but it seems to be going the wrong way.

“I find it to be quite dirty and not really very pleasant to go,” said Robyn Cakebread, owner of the Regent Café in Picton. “I don’t know if it’s the number of people that they have there, probably it is, and the number of cottages around there, but I don’t feel good about telling my customers to go there.

“I had people here from Italy today who were wanting to go there, and they were asking me, would there be room to put up a sun umbrella, and I had to tell them that there would be—at the beach that was posted— but probably not at the other beach that wasn’t posted. It’s a lovely place to explore and walk around, but for spending the day at the beach, it’s not very nice.”

Monica McDonald of Toronto camped at the Sandbanks with her family at the start of August. She said the campgrounds were clean, but that the day use areas were simply too crowded to be kept tidy.

“I went to the dunes for about three hours, and then I left because of the crowds, because they were just ridiculous,” said McDonald. “I was only on the beach where the campers were allowed, and that beach was fine for cleanliness, but there wasn’t a garbage can as far as the eye can see. But the public beach, I wouldn’t even go there, because it was an absolute zoo.”

But while McDonald didn’t have too much to complain about on the beach, she did mention that the maintenance of the outdoor washrooms at the campsites was lacking.

“The other issue is that the outhouses, [of] which there were many, spread out over the campsites. I saw the cleaning truck there on Monday and I didn’t see it there for the rest of the week. And it was disgusting. If you just walked on the road past the kybos, it reeked. The beaches were fine, the kybos were horrible.”

COMMON KNOWLEDGE
The state of the beaches has even been acknowledged publicly. During a council meeting, Athol Ward Councillor Jamie Forrester referred to the Sandbanks as an example of a lacking maintenance budget at provincial parks.

“I don’t know if anyone’s been to the Sandbanks lately,” Forrester commented to the Committee of the Whole. “Garbage on the beach—they don’t have the staff or the money to look after that provincial park and we’re talking about creating another one. It’s just escaping me.”

Some visitors have commented that dirty washrooms near the beaches and campsites are a real turnoff.

Forrester, who also owns and operates Log Cabin Point with his wife, Connie, says his guests frequently express their displeasure at the mess in the park.

“I’ve had people mention to me that there’s a lot more garbage left on the beach, people were seen drinking, with beer bottles on the beach,” said Forrester. “It’s interesting. We have OPP patrols everywhere, and years ago if you were seen with a beer bottle they’d ding you left right and centre.”

Forrester clarified that he doesn’t blame the park management, but rather tight budgets that restrict staff, a problem in all sectors.

“Over the years, there’s more garbage left on the beach… and I don’t think there’s the manpower there to handle the kind of things that go on there,” Forrester speculated.

BLAMING THE VISITORS
The Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources (MNR) agrees that garbage has increased, but says poor staffing isn’t the issue.

“There has been a rise in garbage over the years because usage of the park has increased too much. Basically there are four staff who pick up garbage in the beach and in the parking lot, and other maintenance staff assist as needed. It sounds like they’ve got a fair number of people out there,” said Jolanta Kowalski, senior media relations officer for the MNR, speaking on behalf of Park Superintendent Don Bucholtz, who was on vacation this week. “Park visitation has doubled in the last 30 years. I can’t tell you if the garbage containment has doubled in the last 30 years.”

Kowalski also suggested that a lack of personal responsibility on the part of the visitors had a huge impact, not only in the Sandbanks, but everywhere, in terms of an increase in littering.

Kowalski was unable to comment on the reason that the beaches have become dirtier, despite ongoing maintenance. She did mention that supplemental events like the Friends of the Sandbanks’ annual Trash Bash help keep excess garbage at bay.

Kowalski also pointed out that a licensed landfill, inspected annually by the Ontario Ministry of the Environment and located as far as possible from the water in the boundaries of the park, helps keep down the cost and manpower needed to clean up. So do more advanced methods of recycling used by park staff today.

“There have been hydrogeological studies done to make sure nothing has been leached from the site,” Kowalski reported.

Everyone seems to be in agreement that the popularity of the three Sandbanks beaches does come at a dirty price.

“Sandbanks is the big draw here,” said Forrester. “Has been for 30 years, and I guess it will continue to be.”

You can edit this ad by going editing the index.php file or opening /images/exampleAd.gif

Neglected

Hugh Heal clears brush and branches from Kellar pioneer cemetery on Mosquito Lane in North Marysburgh

Hugh Heal is demanding the County’s respect for the dead. Heal, who served on the County’s cemetery board for ten years, recently pulled his name from board, now called the Cemetery Advisory Committee, frustrated, because it was ineffective.

“They had no authority, they had no power, and they had no actual responsibilities,” said Heal. He has been suggesting for years that the group, which currently changes over with each new municipal council, alter not only its setup, but its status. “They need a long-term, permanent type cemeteries board. Not something on an annual basis or that lives and dies with council, but they need something that’s ongoing.”

Commissioner of Recreation, Parks and Culture Barry Braun agrees. He say the new advisory committee, which met for the first time on June 29, will be bringing a terms of reference to the committee of the whole on Thursday,Aug. 11 which, if approved, could give them more power.

Still, Braun says there are restrictions. Austerity measures in the County have come down especially hard on the Recreation, Parks and Culture Department, and all components are suffering. Taking over abandoned cemeteries is a responsibility of the County, if the matter is brought to light. But with 40 pioneer cemeteries already in the County’s charge and a lengthy legal process to assume any more, the municipality would prefer to avoid it.

“I’m not sure if we want to go around and look for more. Some of them are being looked after… many of the cemeteries are four or five headstones in the middle of somebody’s field,” said Braun. “We’re finding that with many of these cemeteries the legal process to assume them is very onerous. Salem cemetery is an example of a cemetery we’ve been trying to assume for two years now, and it’s very complicated.”

Not good enough, says Heal. He and Ian Reilly, both with the Seventh Town Historical Society, mapped out most of the County’s more than 100 cemeteries, many of which are pioneer burial grounds and hold the County’s history and heritage.

The County may be responsible for maintaining those grounds, but with fallen trees, out of control shrubbery and local vandals, Heal says all they’re doing is sending around a mower.

“I’m not sure they all are being mowed,” said Heal.“I was in one the other day that hasn’t been mowed for at least five years… trees in there are as tall as I am, where it’s supposed to have been mowed.”

Heal has been repairing stones at some of the cemeteries, putting together broken grave markers, and charging the County just barely the cost for the materials he uses. In his work he’s come across cemeteries that have all but disappeared.

A family burial ground at McFaul road and County Road 1, was noted in a 1960s audit of cemeteries, but when Heal found it, only one stone was left, lying face-down in the dirt, in a patch of trees.

A family that came in from the Ottawa area to find the burial site of their ancestors was frustrated to see nothing but brush where the gravestones should have stood.

There are dozens of small burial grounds all over the County. When the loyalists received plots of land from the Crown, each family reserved a piece of their plot, referred to as God’s half-acre, to bury their dead.

“Almost every family that settled here had a grave plot,” Said Heal. “They looked after it. Most of them have disappeared because they were wood. Some were fieldstones, but most of them were wood.And when the families died or moved on, most of them disappeared.”

As towns and communities formed, small churches would open cemeteries on or near the church grounds for their congregations. But those churches closed, and their burial grounds were also abandoned.

Now, Heal says, it’s the responsibility of the municipality to see those pioneer cemeteries that are known and remain intact are looked after so that they too don’t disappear.

Heal contends that those pioneer cemeteries that are being neglected are part of the County’s heritage. And without care, they will eventually disappear.

“It’s just one little step after another,” said Heal. “And if you let it delay long enough, then there’s nothing left.”

The new advisory committee will also be asking council to recognize Heal’s work repairing gravestones during Thursday’s meeting.

Above: Heal takes broken stones to his home to scrub them of lichen and dirt and do what he can to repair them before returning them to their resting places.

Homes for the few

The teachers who educate our children, the nurses who care for our sick, and the police who patrol our roads don’t, for the most part, live in the County, according Gina Cockburn, chair of the The Prince Edward County Affordable Housing Working Group (AHWG).

Though it is likely too broad a generalization, Cockburn’s comments point to a real and growing problem in the County—a dire lack of affordable housing.

The working group met Thursday to discuss the findings of a study the group had commissioned to address the issue in the County.

The study, funded by Human Resources and Skills Development Canada through their Homeless Partnering Strategy, was prepared by SHS Consulting, a group that has done research studies and action plans for municipalities across Ontario. In it, SHS identified nine key issues and made 31 recommendations for action to solve those issues.

SHS used community research, stakeholder interviews, data from various organizations and examples of neighbouring communities to come up with both the apparent issues and their solutions. Some of the problems identified were a loss of rental units and not enough small residences being built to fit the needs of the aging population.

The final draft of the research was presented to council on December 21 last year. In March it was reviewed with Chris Laundry from Prince Edward-Lennox and Addington Social Services (PELASS).The organization is partnering with the County to tackle the problems.

Laundry discussed an action plan, and also discussed Bill 140, a bill from the provincial government that, if passed, would require all municipalities to take responsibility for making sure affordable housing issues like the ones identified in the report are dealt with. If passed, municipalities will have two years to complete the plan.

“Right now, [the municipalities] have zero responsibility for creating affordable housing,” said Gina Cockburn, a lawyer who co-chairs the AHWG. “And now it’s being legislated that they’re going to have to take on at least developing a plan for affordable housing. They have to have a plan. There’s no money attached to this, so there’s no one saying okay, we’re going to give you $6 billion to build affordable housing. No, it’s just that you’ve got to make a plan to figure out how you’re going to deal with the affordable housing issues in your community.”

Bill 140 passed its second reading in Ontario Parliament in March, and it is expected to pass into law before Parliament breaks this summer.

While MPPs on all sides agree that the issue of affordable housing is important and needs to be addressed, critics of the bill, like the Wellesley Institute, a well-respected Ontario think tank on social issues like affordable housing, say that as it stands, the bill doesn’t have the teeth to be effective, especially as the provincial government is not offering money to municipalities to implement it.

“The Ontario government has put up the scaffolding for a long-term affordable housing strategy,” wrote Michael Shapcott, director of affordable housing and social innovation at the Wellesley Institute in a letter to Parliament the day the second reading of the bill was passed. “But there’s plenty of unfinished business for Queen’s Park as it seeks to build a truly comprehensive plan to ensure everyone has access to a healthy, affordable home. There are no targets, timelines and no new housing investments.”

Thursday’s meeting was attended by Councillors Bev Campbell, the founding member of the group, and Robert Quaiff, a new member.

“It’s embarrassing for me because I don’t really understand all there is to know about affordable housing,” said Quaiff. “But it’s time as a municipal representative that I did. And some of the research that I’ve done, my understanding is that the municipality has a really high level of responsibility for affordable housing… so for me it’s education and it’s awareness.

“I think you’ve got this draft report now, and what you have to do is you have to make the entire community aware of it and educate them and get them all on board, which includes municipal councillors and our mayor and staff.”

 

In order to get the County on side, the AHWG decided to tackle the issues and recommendations made in SHS’s study by informing the public about each one, then explaining how those issues impact the community at large, not just those who need access to affordable housing.

There are a lot of ways to answer that, but the chairs of the AHWG had some good points right off the bat.

“Our police officers don’t live in our community,” said Cockburn. “Our teachers don’t live in our community. Probably the nurses that work in our hospital don’t live in our community. Because they can’t afford to… That’s a huge impact, if the people who are providing you a service of whatever sort aren’t living in your community. It deteriorates the fabric of what’s going on around you.”

“If you come here just to do a six-month or a one-year contract and you can’t find some rental accommodation you might actually take that job offer in Kingston instead,” said Deborah Hierlihy, Cockburn’s co-chair and long-time affordable housing activist. “But also, the story is that if you don’t live where you work, then you don’t shop there, either. So when you think about all the dollars that exit when people leave the County after five o’clock, in terms of gas and groceries and restaurants, you see the economic impact that way.”

The group will meet again in August to bring forward those reports and discuss how to disseminate them to the public.The reports and the recommendations in the study will be incorporated into the County’s Strategic Plan.