The end of summer for Patricia Mason-Levasseur means another season has passed without the changes she would like to see on Ontario’s private beaches.
Mason-Levasseur’s husband, Patrick Keith, drowned on a Lake Erie beach in 2016. Since then, she says she breaks down every time she hears of someone drowning or having difficulty in the water.
The St. Catharines, Ont., resident said that’s exactly what happened to her when she read a CBC news article about a 50-year-old Milton man who drowned while swimming on Labor Day at a beach in Port Colborne, Ont.
“It still triggers all the feelings from that day… you know, I guess you call it PTSD.” [post-traumatic stress disorder]”Mason-Levasseur told CBC Hamilton.
“I break down, cry and think about the poor family and how they are [doing]”You know… Every time something like this happens, everything goes back to normal.”
To prevent such tragedies, Mason-Levasseur says private beach owners should be mandated to inform beachgoers when it is unsafe to enter the water due to strong winds and rip currents, conditions she says contributed to the death of her husband.
Keith, 61, drowned on July 22, 2016. The couple then lived in Crystal Beach, Ontario, a community that is part of the Fort Erie Township, home to about 30 kilometers of coastline, much of it privately owned. , according to Fort Erie. Mayor Wayne Redekop.
At the time, Mason-Levasseur said her home was about 200 yards from where Keith drowned, on a stretch of beach east of Crystal Beach Waterfront Park. The beach is privately owned but easily accessible to the public, Mason-Levasseur said.
That summer day, Mason-Levasseur was not with Keith. She said witnesses told her they saw her husband standing in water up to her waist when he appeared to sink. She said despite the wind, there were no warning signs on the beach and no lifeguard was present.
About a year later, his family hired Dr. Chris Houser, a coastal geomorphologist and professor at the University of Waterloo, to try to figure out why Keith couldn’t get out of the water.
According to Houser’s report, a copy of which was seen by CBC Hamilton, weather conditions at the time of Keith’s death were consistent with surfer drownings in the Great Lakes between 2010 and 2017.
“Based on the waves and currents observed during the site visit [made by Houser on September 21, 2018]”When conditions were similar to those of the July 22, 2016 accident, it is reasonable to expect that a dangerous current was present at the time of the drowning,” Houser wrote in the report.
“There are more things that private beaches and owners need to do”
According to Mason-Levasseur, there have been at least two other drowning deaths in the Crystal Beach area since her husband’s death.
He questioned safety measures at Sun Retreats Sherkston Shores in nearby Port Colborne, where the Milton man drowned this year on Labor Day, such as whether a gated entrance to the beach was open but should have been closed that day.
We have asked Marz Homes for signage and they have rejected it for seven years.– Patricia Mason-Lavasseur
Mason-Levasseur said developer Marz Homes has a subdivision with access to the private beach where her husband died. She said there were no danger signs or warnings about dangerous conditions that day in 2016. Since then, she has been trying to get Marz Homes to install signs, but she said the company has refused.
“I just think that private beaches and property owners need to do more to let people know that these conditions are possible, and not blame the victims,” Mason-Levasseur said.
Mason-Levasseur filed a lawsuit against Marz Homes in 2018, seeking $2 million for her husband’s wrongful death.
In the statement of claim, seen by CBC Hamilton, Mason-Levasseur alleges Keith’s death was caused by the defendants’ negligence, including a failure to “post signs on or near the premises.”
None of the claims have been proven in court. Mason-Levasseur’s lawyer, Joseph Fearon, told CBC Hamilton that he hopes the case will go to trial next year.
Breaking: has contacted Marz Homes and Sun Retreats Sherkston Shores in Port Colborne for comment.
In an email, Marz Homes project manager Dani Gabriele said, “Marz Homes does not and has never owned any beach in Crystal Beach.”
The company Liza two residential developments in Crystal Beach on its website, including one described as a “beachside community.”
When asked about the lawsuit’s allegations, Gabriele said, “Marz Homes has no further comment.”
“This is not something to be taken lightly”: mayor
Mayor Redekop said the mix of public and private coastal areas, including smaller informal access points through road permits, means there are a variety of ways beaches are managed.
Bay Beach, a public area of Crystal Beach and “one of the prettiest sandy beaches in the country,” according to Redekop, has a live webcam streaming so that the people and the municipality can monitor the capacity. Redekop says all public access points have signage and that major public beaches have red and white posts to mark their boundaries.
“We try to make sure that people understand what the rules are and that they are aware of the fact that this is water. This is not something that should be taken lightly,” he said.
But because many visitors come from outside the region in the summer, Redekop says people often don’t know what the surveys indicate or may ignore the signs.
When it comes to private spaces, “if you are a property owner, you need to make sure your property is safe,” Redekop added.
Property owners, “whether an individual or an association, would be responsible for the activities that take place on their property,” Redekop said. “In Fort Erie … we would have several hundred private landowners and each of them would be responsible for the land they own, unless they are part of an association. All of those associations will have liability insurance.”
Redekop said swimmers should also be aware of where they are swimming and whether they might be trespassing.
The municipality could require signage on private property, but Redekop said such regulation would require public consultation and has not been presented to the municipality as “an issue we should address.”
‘This is not going to end well’
According to the US-based Great Lakes Surf Rescue Project, between 2010 and September 2023, there were 269 drownings in Lake Erie, however, that number includes incidents on the Canadian and US coasts.
The highest number over the 14-year period (36 drownings) was recorded in 2018. The group has recorded 14 drownings this year, two of which occurred off the coast of Ontario.
Dave Benjamin, executive director of the organization, said the nonprofit group also teaches water safety, works with family and friends of drowning victims and provides training to lifeguards and first responders who may be responding to water emergencies.
Benjamin said winds across the Great Lakes can create “several types of dangerous currents” that can be very dangerous for swimmers or boaters.
Crystal Beach resident Nigel Hay knows firsthand how quickly danger can appear when people enter the water in less than ideal conditions.
Hay, 51, said he had to call 911 in mid-August after witnessing a man in an inflatable being blown away by strong winds. He recorded the entire ordeal for his YouTube channel, which he said serves as an educational tool for beachgoers.
A few days earlier, Hay said he was at the beach when he saw three girls enter the water on paddleboards, just west of Crystal Beach Waterfront Park.
“I thought this is not going to end well,” Hay told CBC Hamilton. “It must have been about five minutes, they were like 200 meters away… The wind just pushed them into the lake really fast.”
While one girl was able to paddle back, the others needed help, and family members asked Hay to help. He left in her sea-doo and took them back to shore, she said.
Hay said he would also like to see more signage on the beach “to warn people coming here… Because most of them are not from the city, they don’t know the dangers or what’s hidden under the water.” “When the weather changes very quickly, this becomes very dangerous,” he said months later, looking at the waves.
Recommendations for owners
According to the Life Saving Society of Ontario, which publishes its own Ontario Waterfront Safety Rules, the province has no regulations for oceanfront beaches. It has regulations for public swimming pools and recreational camps with beachfront areashowever.
Stephanie Backalar, a spokesperson for the society, said dock owners should consult the organization’s manual to be properly prepared and equipped.
“We are hopeful that these owners and operators will go above and beyond and do everything in their power to make Ontario waters as safe as possible; this includes posting mandatory signs and supplemental signs that can save a life.” Backalar said.
Backalar said less than one percent of drownings occur in settings supervised by lifeguards, so the organization recommends that swimmers attend those beaches with lifeguards on duty. However, he said, the group does not have an exact number of how many beaches in Ontario have lifeguards.
Redekop said costs and staff shortages make it difficult to implement lifeguard work. He says there also needs to be more investment in swimming lessons, especially in larger city centres, where people come from in the summer.
Whether public or private, Benjamin said there are commonly accepted water safety best practices that all property owners providing access to water should follow.
He said these include danger signs on the beach, public rescue equipment, public education about the area, as well as 911 call boxes so people can have immediate access to lifeguards if there is an emergency.
Benjamin also recommended lifeguards, lifeguard stations along the shoreline, and signage with emergency protocols and lake conditions.
“Absolutely, there should be danger signs on the beach… strategically located where rip currents or dangerous currents may occur,” he said.
Benjamin said that “none of this was available when [Keith] “He drowned and now, many years later, he is still not available.”