Early First Nations settlers described what is now Burlington Beach as being extremely picturesque when they landed there. It is situated on a unique landform known as a baymouth bar, a natural sand feature formed over thousands of years. The beach area is popular for swimming, volleyball, windsurfing, sailing, sandcastle-building and just plain soaking up the sun. With the breezes blowing in off Lake Ontario on a hot summer day, you can easily imagine you’re in the Caribbean. That is, if you don’t mind sidestepping bird droppings, putting up with the smell of dead fish and a bit of water pollution.
In conjunction with the Region of Halton and Halton Conservation Authority, the City of Burlington is aiming to restore the area to the healthy state it enjoyed during the pristine days of the Brant Hotel in 1900 when bathers flocked to the beach. The City’s community services committee received a comprehensive report on May 8. It will be referred to staff, who with the Region and Halton Conservation Authority make recommendations in the fall. Copies were distributed to stakeholders. Beachway Park is home to three endangered species – the peregrine falcon, barn swallow and monarch butterfly. The beach and dune communities, and some of the plantspecies found within them, exist nowhere else in Halton Region.
Andy and Joan Blaak moved to the Beach Strip in 1993 to enjoy their retirement and have no intention of leaving. “We bought here, mainly for our health,” Andy said. “We have 13 grandchildren and a sailboat, and we spend a lot of time at the beach. Andy has strong views about what needs to be done to enhance the area as a tourist attraction. “I’d like them to pay attention to the growth of the vegetation and clean the sand and water,” he said. “For the last six years they have hardly scraped the dirt off it. It’s a combination of seaweed, people’s grass cuttings and animal waste.” During the summer, swimming at the beach is a hit and miss situation. If the weather is dry, there is little pollution in the water. However, heavy rains tend to wash dirt into the lake and the beach has to be closed. The Blaaks gave up their car a few years ago because it was getting too expensive to drive, but they are in an ideal spot on Lakeshore Road because the bus will stop right at their front door. “We buy bus passes and get transers. We can go for two hours on the pass, either to Burlington or Hamilton.” Marianne Meed Ward, councillor for Ward 2 in which the park is located, said she not only supports allowing residents to stay there, but also bringing additional uses to the area. “They (residents) provide extra eyes on the street and they contribute to the community,” she said. “They don’t impede access to the water. “If you make it all passive parkland, you can run into problems like beach parties.” However, Meed Ward said she would not like to see high-rises or townhouses built there. “Surfboard or bike rental shops are a possibility, or perhaps a teahouse,” she said To counter the problem of Canada geese fouling the beach, Meed Ward said the City has an egg-oiling program in which onethird of geese eggs found are oiled so they won’t hatch.
The Friends of Freeman Station also have identified the beach as a potential site for the old Burlington train station, which has been located temporarily on Fairview Street. Bids are out now for entrepreneurs interested in operating a pub in the old pump house. It was constructed in 1909 and is listed on Burlington’s Municipal Register as a property designated under the OntarioHeritage Act. Blaak said having a pub on the beach might stop young people from having beer parties there late at night. Canadian National Railways once operated a line along the beach to factories in Hamilton. When the rail line was no longer needed, it was torn up in 1984 and turned into an asphalt bikepath that runs all the way from Spencer Smith Park to the Burlington Canal. Between 1976 and 1997 local governments acquired several private properties along the beach, but there are still 30 of them at the south end of the beach.
In 1976 the Beach Strip Acquisition Program was initiated and cottages were acquired as they became available on the market and demolished to provide flood protection and public open space. Between 1976 and 2011, 129 properties were acquired including all of the leasehold cottages in the former Canadian National rail lands. Stakeholders expressed varied opinions about the future of Beachway Park at two recent public information sessions. Some residents living in the are voiced concerns about the uncertainty surrounding the property acquisition program and indicated their desire to continue to live in the beach area for the long term. Others identified the need to continue with the long-standing vision for the area to be entirely public open space. Many people expressed their desire for opportunities to be developed to make the park a four season destination. The impacts of erosion were minimized in both 1996 and 2010 when clean sand was dredged from the lake and deposited on the beach. The first Master Plan for the park was approved in 1987 and was updated in 1994. The 1987 plan provided a long-term vision that included a full-scale marina at Spencer Smith Park, which has since been scrapped One of the items suggested in the 1994 plan was a Great Lakes Science Centre At present, Beachway Park has a pavilion that includes change rooms, washrooms, concession area, outdoor deck and seating, and a drinking fountain. The City removed lifeguard services at the park in 1999 The Burlington Catamaran Club currently uses a portion of the beach for access to the lake. There is also an area, near the north end of the beach, designated for launching personal water craft .
However, there is no vehicular access across the trail, so people must be able to carry their boats from the parking lot to the water. There are parking spaces for approximately 250 vehicles. However, during periods of high occupancy, parking is at a premium and many visitors have been found to park illegally on the road and on grassy areas. The Burlington Waterfront Access and Protection Advisory Committee has endorsed the retention of some homes on the beach strip. Two First Nations have indicated they want to be kept informed of developments and planners have promised to keep them up to date if any areas need to be disturbed to accommodate proposed uses.
By Dennis Gibbons