A STORY OF RECREATION AND NATURE WORKING TOGETHER
Westboro Beach has been a gathering place for people along the river for thousands of years during which time it has undergone many changes. Once it was a stopping place for Algonquin Anishinabe as they rested on their trading route. Later, loggers managed the flow of large logs to the mills downriver. Ahead of them lay Remic Rapids and the Chaudière Falls so the natural beach was a place to prepare for what lay ahead. Then it became a place to enjoy summer. By the mid 20th century, we had learned that recreational enjoyment can be enhanced with improved water quality and a more bio diversified shoreline. These became community driven goals and the Westboro Beach community became actively involved in influencing a better future for our section of one of Canada’s most historically important rivers.
Work began in earnest in the late 1970s when a Westboro community study identified the need for a closer connection with the river. One of the first actions was to connect the community to the river by replacing the city operated Westboro Community Centre with the community operated Dovercourt Recreation Centre and hiring as director, John Rapp, who had good community development skills and an aquatic background. In addition, the community newspaper, a skills exchange program and a community animator funded by the City helped raise interest in new community recreational opportunities focusing on Westboro Beach.
Algonquin College’s Recreation Facility Management and Community Development programs provided resource support to the Dovercourt Recreation Centre especially in the redesign and construction of the beach pavilion and the introduction of new aquatic beach activities. Summer beach programs were expanded by using various federal and provincial summer student grant programs to hire students as play and program leaders. For two winters (1981-83), Court Ordered Community Service participants operated the pumps to flood the hockey rink and skating labyrinth right on the frozen river. In the 1980s, local businesses began donating their products and services to develop the kitchen and cafe, and to provide canoes and kayaks. They also sponsored and supported shoreline cleanups on both sides of the river from Britannia to the Chaudière Bridge. Overall, this was a successful demonstration of co-operation among government agencies, interested organizations and the community. Local volunteers worked hard in their efforts to advocate for the restoration of the beach and to prepare it for future generations. They became skilled at writing grant applications for funding of much needed work.
While there was and still is lots of discussion on what should or shouldn’t happen at the beach, there has always been agreement on the importance of reducing vandalism and improving river water quality. In the 1970s it was not unusual for high E.coli counts to shut down swimming for over 20 days each summer. Westboro Beach community members came together as Friends of the Beach and began pushing for a solution to reduce the number of posted closed days. It was obvious that daily monitoring of the water would eliminate the problem of shutting down weekend swimming. It involved a great deal of effort to get the City staff to get on board, but it finally worked. Since that time, all City beaches are monitored daily. Awareness of water quality is now top of mind. The number of posted days has been reduced to about 10 to 12 days per summer.
In 2002, Ottawa Riverkeeper was formed and led the way to developing the Ottawa River Action Plan. This has played a prominent role in improving water quality along the river and built on the foundational work done by the community association and its volunteers.
One of the very hands-on things that members of the Westboro Beach Community Association did was contribute to the City’s Pinecrest Creek/Westboro Retrofit Study that tried to reduce and improve the quality of runoff flowing from the 6 stormwater outfalls up-river from the beach. This involved having community association volunteers twice daily entering the major sewer outlets and taking water readings. It was a memorable experience.
These volunteers were known as Beach Friends. Later, the group evolved into Riverwatchers for Ottawa Riverkeeper by helping to monitor river water and organizing and participating in shoreline cleanups. Currently some Beach Friends are involved with broader water issues like opposing the shoreline nuclear dump being proposed for Chalk River. Beach Friends are well represented in the Westboro Beach Community Association and play a major role in shaping its agenda and long term plans.
Who could have imagined 50 years ago the important advocacy role the Westboro Beach community would play for the enhancement and protection of water and shoreline along the Ottawa River?
1966 – 1978
The river still showing its economic scars of the past: beach logs, boom cradles and sheds.
Changes started to come with the building of the new pavilions and the closing down of the log drives.
A made over pavilion with kitchen replacing lifeguards’ room, a paved patio with a foundation, a hillside with roses and flowers. Westboro Beach was also the first beach in the area with a paved pathway to the water’s edge for wheelchairs. Funding for many of these projects was awarded to some of the many grant applications submitted to the City, and the NCC.
Winter at the Beach
In the winters of 1981-83 a heated trailer was placed on the beach to support greater use of the beach as a year round facility. A cross-country trail was set up from Westboro Beach to Britannia using the river embankment to add slopes for greater enjoyment and interest. On the river, a pump was used to flood a hockey and broomball rink as well as for a skating labyrinth. A shortage of volunteers and safety concerns led to this initiative fading away. In the 21st century, it has been replaced by the SJAM Trail which allows thousands to enjoy the river side. Thanks to Groomer Dave Adams and team for all their hard work.
The Millennium Restart
WBCA pitched in to make the Beach more welcoming. One project was planting local bushes and wild roses on the hill side just east of the pavilions.
A paddling oasis with no motorboats as above Deschenes and below the Chaudiere. For two summers there was a children’s boat camp (sailing, canoeing, kayaking the Remic Rapids and rowing).
Thank you from the Westboro Beach Community Association
While many members of the Westboro Beach Community Association and of the Westboro Beach neighbourhood have contributed financially, and through their time and hard work to bringing back the beach to being a very important resource, no one has done more for this project than John Almstedt and Don Paskovich. Their work covers decades and includes both large and small tasks done with commitment and conviction. Without them, Westboro Beach might have suffered the fate of the two neighbouring beaches at Woodroffe and Remic Rapids and simply disappeared. Instead, all of us now enjoy a jewel. They are both neighbourhood heroes.