Is Wasaga Beach Still Safe?

May 2016Is Wasaga Beach Safe?

Yes.

By now many of you have heard the sad news that 2 young men were stabbed over the May long weekend here in Wasaga Beach. The news was met with shock and profound sadness by locals.  It has many people wondering if Wasaga Beach is as safe as it once was. 

Wasaga Beach, and beach area one in particular, has suffered from an image problem for quite some time now but it it justified? 

 

The reality is that violence can happen anywhere. Wasaga Beach is not immune. As police and town officials try to make sense of what happened, the business community is bracing for the negative impact of bad publicity. It seems we have been doing that a lot in recent years.

On Wednesday I drove to Toronto and I happened to tune in to a popular talk radio show on AM 640 in which the host was trying to solicit phone calls from the public to discuss the matter. One caller, a man who said he owned a cottage nearby, lamented that the beach has changed and is now a haven for drunken youth.  Another said "Sauble is for families, Wasaga Beach is for drunk teenagers". I wanted to scream at my radio but that would do no good, so instead I am giving a less emotional account of what life is like here in the beach.

I have lived here since the early 1990's. At that time Wasaga Beach had (imho) an even worse, yet similarly undeserved reputation. My husband and I happened to be working at the Dyconia; a local bar which was notorious as a biker hangout. In those days it wasn't rumours of drunken teenagers running rampant in the beach, it was dangerous, unpredictable bikers. I recall hearing the warnings from friends who would tell me that the town was controlled (yes, "controlled" was the word they used) by biker gangs. Except this too was not true.  The truth was that bikers did come here in rather large numbers, and you would see them riding their Harley's down our main street, but they did not "control" the town and for the most part, they kept to themselves. I remember talking to one of the Dyconia maids who said that she enjoyed having the bikers because they made their beds, left a tip on the dresser and treated her kindly.  My husband and I were hired to entertain in the Dyconia's lounge for 3 summers in a row and many nights the bar would be filled with bikers - sometimes from various clubs. They were at times loud and rowdy but no real trouble ever erupted during our time there. As it turns out, Gangsters can be surprisingly well-behaved.

Fast forward to 2016 when most of those bikers are now grandparents, it's difficult to conjure up an image of boogeymen when you see a formerly imposing biker using a cane to get around. So, the new troublemakers in town are kids. I guess we all need to have a nemesis. 

While it's true that young people can sometimes cause trouble here in town, the trouble is more on them than on us. I see them evicted from accommodations for drunk and rowdy behaviour. They fill up the police station when they erupt into fights or get caught doing something stupid. But stabbings, shootings and other acts of lethal violence are extremely rare here. These deaths were tragic, shocking, horrifying but not related in any way to the behaviour of drunk kids who get in trouble for jumping off a roof into a pool. Weren't we all young once? Why does every generation condemn their younger counterparts for doing the very same things they did decades earlier?

What was particularly disappointing about the AM 640 radio broadcast was that the show's host seemed oblivious to the damage he and his call-in commenters were doing to our already fragile economy. Accuracy and truth took a back seat to drama, rumour, innuendo and outright B.S.  I get that his show is "entertainment" but journalism, even the seedy sort of this radio channel, should be reasonably accurate.  Locals that heard the show felt like it was nothing more than a shit on Wasaga Beach fiesta.

So what is the truth? Is Wasaga Beach over-run by rowdy, drunken teenagers who are so out of control that they'd stab you for looking at them the wrong way? Good grief - NO! Ask a local. They'll tell you that the teenagers come up every year to celebrate graduation or to hold a prom party for the May long weekend,  and they arrive again at the end of the school year to blow off some steam. After July 1st, Wasaga Beach is mainly families, couples and day-trippers who come to picnic and soak up some sun.  Young adults do like Beach area 1 because that's where the fast food and licensed bars and patios are. Heck, I like those things too. However, Wasaga Beach is 14km long and there are any number of places that are not connected to bars or prom parties. Your experience can be vastly different depending on where you decide to lay your beach blanket. The beauty of this town is that if you can choose a range of beaches which will put you among quiet, cottagers and families only, to youthful, party fun.

Wasaga Beach is a very safe community. It's not unusual for people here to leave their homes or cars unlocked (although we do tighten our security a teensy bit during tourist season simply because of the transient nature of summer). Even during the Long Weekends, when tens of thousands of visitors arrive, we don't feel insecure or afraid. There are times when we lament that some tourists don't behave well, leave too much litter behind, play their music too loud, create bonfires that are far too robust but seldom do you ever hear any local say they are afraid for their safety. 

Another irritating point of conversation in the AM 640 show was about the 2007 fire on Main Street and the trouble we have had re-developing that area. When I hear media people describe the fire, they frame it like the whole town was destroyed; it wasn't. What did burn down was a handful of seasonal-only commercial units that used to sell bathing suits and trinkets. Beach Drive; the area that most people think of when they think of Beach 1, was completely untouched. 

After the 2007 fire, the town erected an ill-conceived entertainment dome but it too fell onto hard times. Bear in mind that this part of Beach 1 was slated for re-development as it was becoming long in the tooth anyhow. The facades were worn and most of us were complaining that they needed to revitalize those buildings as they were becoming an eyesore. We still have plenty of stores which sell these things. And while the pace of re-development has displeased most locals, our 14 km long beach had plenty to offer with or without a few missing commercial units.

What I would say to anyone worried about what they read and hear about Wasaga Beach is this; Wasaga Beach is a town of just under 20,000 people. During the summer the population of this place explodes. Conflicts do arise and sometimes people behave badly but violence of the sort we saw last weekend is rare.  If the situation was anything like described by AM 640, I would never live here.

Wasaga Beach is many things to many people; a natural wonder, peaceful and serene for some, a place to party and let loose for others. We love our tourists. We work to serve them as well as we can, and we condemn violence in the strongest terms.  

Darlene Watters - owner of Wasaga.com

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