Pacific Rim National Park Reserve near Tofino was bathed in sunshine Wednesday, attracting beach walkers and a handful of surfers looking for a nice wave.
But notable to many was the lack of lifeguards on such a big, popular beach.
“Yeah, it’s pretty clear on the signs and pretty clear from looking around that there’s not a lot of support here,” said Bruce Kennedy, who’s visiting from Vancouver.
The beach had lifeguards for four decades until the service fell victim to conservative government budget cuts in 2012.
In the past, Courtenay-Alberni MP Gord Johns called for the lifeguards to be reinstated. Now, he’s raising the issue again before what is sure to be a busy summer at the beach.
“You won’t find a place in Canada with as many people on the beach or in the water on any given day without a lifeguard. I can’t think of any,” said Johns.
There is also a petition calling for lifeguard service going around Tofino with hundreds of signatures.
“For 40 years, it had been identified as a problematic area and had a successful program, and for it to be taken away, relatively overnight, was shocking to the communities,” said Surf Sister owner Krissy Montgomery.
She says the number of visitors to Long Beach has only increased since 2012 and that people have died in the water at Long Beach, including four deaths in the last five years.
Montgomery adds that surf companies like hers end up being the defacto lifeguards for the beach with dozens of close calls.
She even rescued someone two months ago.
“I had to pin them on my surfboard and paddle them in. I don’t know what would have happened if I wasn’t there,” she said.
Gord Johns says two national parks on the east coast do have lifeguard programs.
“One in Cape Breton, one in P.E.I. They have less visitation, and somehow they get funded,” he said.
“I think there should be lifeguards here,” said another visitor to Long Beach Wednesday. “In the grand scheme of things, it’s a minimal cost and you have to pay to use this park, so there is funding.”
But in a statement to CHEK News, Parks Canada says it will not be reinstating the lifeguard program.
“Parks Canada collaborates with the municipalities of Tofino and Ucluelet, tourism-based businesses, and safety organizations such as the British Columbia Association of Surf Instruction (BCASI) to implement the CoastSmart campaign,” reads the statement.
“Parks Canada will not be reinstating the surf guard program at Long Beach and is working to reduce the risk by addressing risk factors identified by the International Life Saving Federation. As the region continues to experience a high volume of visitation year-round, Parks Canada is focusing its efforts on visitor education and incident prevention in collaboration with regional partners.”
The organization urges people to visit this website for tips on being safe near or in water.