Paul Boleantu estimates he rescued about 20 people from Lake Ontario during the 37 years he lived on the Burlington Beach Strip. In fact, he was once honored for it by the City of Burlington with presentation of a plaque. Boleantu, therefore, found it ironic that the city council of the day ignored claims from residents that they were serving as an extra pair of eyes when it ordered them out of there to make way for Beachway Park. “I remember one time there were seven kids out drinking on a boat when it sprang a leak,” said Boleantu, who had a telescope through which he could view activities on the lake. “The kids were shrieking like crazy. We were the beach watchdogs.” Now 74, Boleantu was one of the last six holdouts from a City effort to clear cottages from the beach. It’s worth noting, since the current council is seeking to get rid of three more homes to expand the park. Boleantu finally left in 2003 and bought another home in Stoney Creek for about $200,000, but because he stayed past the limit the City set for offering compensation, he got nothing for his cottage at all. He couldn’t bear to stay to watch bulldozers level the cottage. His wife already had been crying watching other cottages torn down earlier.
Nevertheless, he doesn’t regret staying until the end. “We brought our son Steven up on the beach strip in a natural setting,” Boleantu said. “He practised sailing on the lake.” Steven went on to compete in the 2002 International Europe World Championships, hosted by the Royal Hamilton Yacht Club. Boleantu said he always understood why the City wanted to create a park. “But the way they dealt with us turned me off city council,” he said. “When the City bought the land they immediately raised our leases by 400 per cent over two years. “We thought of the beach strip as a community. That community died.” Bert Oldershaw, who competed for Canada in paddling at three Olympics, lived there in Robinson Crusoe style for many years and was determined to stay. Oldershaw’s cottage was open to the lake and featured a large hammock, where he enjoyed the breezes just like he was on a tropical island. Divisions between the City and beach residents became so wide that clerk Helen MacRae suggested it might be embarrassing to have Oldershaw speak during a City Hall ceremony when the Olympic torch passed through the city in December of 1987 on its way to Calgary.
Another Olympian was selected. John Bliss’ family lived on the Beach Strip until 1956. The family later moved to Hamilton, but when he was 23 he bought his own cottage on the strip and lived in it for 13 years. Bliss sold it in 1989 rather than wait for the inevitable to happen. “I know what it feels like to know the bulldozers are coming some day,” said Bliss, who now lives on Townsend Road in Burlington. “It’s like Hitler rolling in with tanks and mowing your house down. “I didn’t want to leave. I felt tremendous pressure. The City bullied us. It would keep you awake at night.” Bliss said at that time Beach Strip residents were shocked to learn the City had purchased the entire strip of land from Spencer Smith Park down to the Burlington Canal from Canadian National Railways for a pittance. “Owners were infuriated,” he said. “They were asking why they didn’t get a chance to buy the properties. They would have paid a lot more.” Bliss said Joan Little, at that time city councillor for Ward 2, was one of the Beach Strip residents’ saviors. “She told council not to be so heavy-handed with us and eventually the people after me got a better deal.” Bliss, now 62, paid about three times the price for his new home than he got for his 800 square foot, three-bedroom cottage. “But I’m happy the way things turned out,” he said. “I don’t have the City trying to kick me out where I am now.” However Little, now a part-time columnist for The Hamilton Spectator, told The Bay Observer she feels residents were treated very fairly. “We met with the residents and agreed they would have 10 years either to sell privately or to the City,” she said. “Then we extended that to 15 years. “Nobody wanted to leave the beach, but how long can you let people stay on land that had been designated for a park back in the 1970s. “There was flooding in 1972. Several cottages were damaged and others were total losses. And I recall the City gave some of the people a sort of sympathy payment at the time of the flooding.”