This tower located across from Lovekin Rock was torn down in 2012 after budget cuts caused the cancellation of the Pacific Rim National Park’s surf guard program. Two people have died in accidents near Lovekin this year. (Photo - Andrew Bailey)

This tower located across from Lovekin Rock was torn down in 2012 after budget cuts caused the cancellation of the Pacific Rim National Park’s surf guard program. Two people have died in accidents near Lovekin this year. (Photo - Andrew Bailey)

MP calls for lifeguards at popular Tofino surf spot after mother’s death

The Pacific Rim National Park Reserve is defending its decision to cancel the surf guard program.

Three weeks before a 53 year-old woman died in a tragic ocean accident off Long Beach on Sunday, Courtenay-Alberni MP Gord Johns had delivered a letter to Canada’s Environment Minister Catherine McKenna urging for better signage within the Pacific Rim National Park Reserve.

“Visitors to this outstandingly beautiful beach should be clearly informed of the possible dangers of riptides, surfs and undertows,” Johns wrote to the Minister on May 7.

The letter included a quote from constituent Courteney Preyser who had visited the Park Reserve with her family last August.

“My husband and I, my two nephews and my niece nearly drowned in the rip current around Lovekin Rock last August,” Preyser wrote. “The signage at the beach is woefully inadequate and had we been aware we never would have put ourselves in danger like that. While our harrowing story has a good ending, I am fearful of how many visitors to the park could find themselves in our situation—literally 5-10 minutes after entering the water, with what should have been a day of fun, we were fighting for our lives.”

University of Victoria student Nijin John died in an accident near Lovekin Rock on Feb. 10. Ann Wittenburg died in an accident in the same area on Sunday; five hours before her daughter’s wedding, which she had travelled from Toronto to attend.

“It’s a heart-wrenching, tragic, story,” Johns said of Sunday’s incident. “I can’t even imagine how difficult that must be to go through. To lose your mother at a special time like that. A time that’s supposed to be a happy time. Our whole community really felt it. Even though we didn’t know the family, there’s no one that heard that story that wasn’t really emotionally touched by it and certainly my condolences and thoughts go out to the family.”

The Westerly News reached out to Johns who said he had hand-delivered another letter to McKenna on Wednesday calling for better signage as well as the resurrection of the former surf guard program that involved lifeguards monitoring Long Beach from a tower located near Lovekin Rock. The surf guard program was cancelled in 2012 as part of a $29 million cut to Parks Canada’s budget that included laying off 638 Parks Canada employees, 12 of whom had been employed by the Pacific Rim National Park Reserve.

“The Surf Guards at Long Beach, on average, performed eight water rescues and made about 800 contacts with people on the beach every year,” Johns’ letter states.

Johns recalled fighting against the decision to shut down the surf guard program when he was the executive director of the Tofino-Long Beach Chamber of Commerce in 2012.

“When that program left our community six years ago, people knew that we were putting a significant risk on people that don’t really understand the conditions they might be facing when they go out in the water,” he said. “We can’t connect whether the surf guard program would have saved this woman’s life, or the young man’s life earlier this year, but what we can say is that it has saved lives in the past and we know that, the more people we have on the ground with their eyes and their ears on the water, and with local knowledge, that helps prevent incidents and mistakes from happening.”

He suggested the Park Reserve welcomed roughly 1.1 million visitors in 2017, is heavily marketing the region as an attractive place to visit and is offering free entry to youth 17 years and under this year.

“With that, it means we have more responsibility to look after the people that are visiting,” he said. “We want them to have a safe, healthy, happy and memorable visit to our region. The last thing we want is their families scarred with a really terrible tragedy, something that possibly could have been prevented.”

He said other popular surf destinations have lifeguards in place and said the Park Reserve should be able to reinstate the program fairly quickly.

“Maybe some knowledge is gone and maybe some infrastructure is gone that we need to build back up to reinstate a program like this, but I think it’s something that could be reinstated because we’re fortunate to have some people that have been invested in the Park for so long that, possibly, they could help put the program together in short order.”

In an emailed response to the Westerly, Pacific Rim National Park Reserve Superintendent Karen Haugen defended the decision to cancel the program.

“The Surf Guard program, which ran during summer months in a popular section of Long Beach, concluded in 2012 as it was no longer in step with evolving surf and water recreation practices in the area,” Haugen wrote in an email to the Westerly News. “While surfing used to be centralized abound a small area of Long Beach, primarily during peak summer months, now surfing is common over a wide area stretching from Ucluelet’s Mussel Beach, through the Long Beach Unit, and into Tofino’s North Chesterman Beach. Surfing is also more of a year round sport now.”

She said it is not feasible to provide surf guard services over such a wide area and that the Park Reserve, instead, chose to collaborate with Tofino and Ucluelet on a massive signage and education campaign dubbed CoastSmart.

“Through the CoastSmart program which launched in 2016, Parks Canada has been collaborating with Tofino and Ucluelet, along with tourism-based businesses and safety organizations to educate visitors and local water users about the risks the ocean in this region,” she wrote. “Through CoastSmart, we educate people on the dangers of tides, unexpected waves, the power of rip currents, and the debilitating effects of cold water.”

Ucluelet’s municipal council publicly questioned the CoastSmart program last year, and, while the program’s signage is believed to be completed, Johns is questioning why those signs have not yet been erected.

“We need those signs up,” he said. “We need much better interpretive type signage to help people understand the elements that they’re facing and the conditions that they’re in.”

Haugen said the CoastSmart program includes current rip current signage near Lovekin Rock and additional standardized signs will be installed throughout the region this year.

“There is also a CoastSmart website, an interactive quiz, videos with local ambassadors, rack cards, information sheets, restaurant coasters, advertisements and more,” she wrote. “Parks Canada staff also interact with visitors on Long Beach to share CoastSmart information such as changing tides, rip tides, and hazardous areas.”

Just Posted

Robert Nelson, 35, died after being stabbed at a homeless camp in Abbotsford on April 7 of this year.
Mom pleads for information about son’s killing at Abbotsford homeless camp

Robert Nelson, 35, described as ‘man who stood for justice, honour, respect’

FVRD surveyed public opinion on cannabis production and processing in the electoral areas. Odour and distance from residential areas were the top concerns. (Black Press file)
Cannabis production and processing rules being drafted by Fraser Valley Regional District

Data from public opinion survey will be used to guide cannabis-related land use

Police arrest the suspect in an attempted armed bank robbery on June 2 at the Scotiabank at Gladwin Road and South Fraser Way in Abbotsford. (Photo by Garry Amyot)
Abbotsford bank robbery suspect who was stopped by customers faces more charges

Neil Simpson now faces total of eight charges, up from the initial two

Vancouver Canucks captain Bo Horvat greets fans outside of the Abbotsford Centre prior to the Canucks exhibition game against the Ottawa Senators in 2019. (John Morrow/Abbotsford News)
More jobs posted for Abbotsford AHL team

Five new opportunities accepting applicants, Comets forward Lukas Jasek signs in Finland

Singer Ben Cottrill performs during the 2019 Arty Awards at The Reach Gallery Museum, the last time the event was held in person. Cottrill received the award in the performing arts category. (John Morrow/Abbotsford News)
Nominations now open for 2021 Arty Awards

Annual event hosted by Abbotsford Arts Council, with ceremony Sept. 25

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau participates in a plenary session at the G7 Summit in Carbis Bay, England on Friday June 11, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Canada donating 13M surplus COVID-19 vaccine doses to poor countries

Trudeau says the government will pay for 87 million shots to be distributed to poor countries

Kelowna-Lake Country MLA Norm Letnick, assistant deputy speaker at the B.C. legislature, presides over committee discussions. The legislature is completing its delayed spring session this week, with most MLAs participating by video conference. (Hansard TV)
B.C.’s daily COVID-19 infections dip below 100 over weekend

Only 68 new cases recorded Monday, four additional deaths

The BC Ferries website went down for a short while Monday morning following a provincial announcement that recreational travel between health authorities can resume Tuesday. (Black Press Media file photo)
BC Ferries’ website crashes in wake of provincial reopening announcement

Website back up now, recreational travel between health regions to resume as of Tuesday

The Kamloops Indian Residential School is photographed using a drone in Kamloops, B.C., Monday, June, 14, 2021. The remains of 215 children were discovered buried near the former school earlier this month. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
Communities grapple with what to do with former residential and day schools

Some tear them down as a tool to help healing, others repurpose them as tools for moving forward

FILE – Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry talks about B.C.’s plan to restart the province during a press conference at Legislature in Victoria, Tuesday, May 25, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad Hipolito
B.C. watching U.K.’s COVID struggles but don’t think province will see similar pitfalls

Studies show that one dose of vaccine is only 33 per cent effective in preventing B.1.617.2 spread

RCMP Const. Shelby Patton is shown in this undated handout photo. RCMP say that Patton was hit by an allegedly stolen truck that he had pulled over on Saturday morning in Wolseley, east of Regina. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO, RCMP
Pair charged in Saskatchewan Mountie’s death make first court appearance

Const. Shelby Patton was hit by an allegedly stolen truck that he had pulled over Saturday morning

David and Collet Stephan leave for a break during an appeal hearing in Calgary on Thursday, March 9, 2017. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Todd Korol
Appeal Court rejects stay for Alberta couple facing third trial in son’s death

Pair accused in their earlier trials of not seeking medical attention for their son sooner

Highway notices like this come down effective June 14. Public health restrictions on non-essential travel and commercial operation have hit local businesses in every corner of B.C. (B.C. government)
Province-wide travel back on in B.C.’s COVID-19 restart plan

Gathering changes include up to 50 people for outdoor events

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

Most Read