“Shore it up and leave it alone.”
Residents, Parks Canada officials and the Town of Niagara-on-the-Lake all have ideas about what is the best way to protect shoreline properties along Lake Ontario.
Some people think aggressive shoreline measures using large stones is the solution, while others argue preserving beach access is more important.
In some areas, shoreline protection threatens natural wildlife and animals that make their homes on the banks and cliffs.
Residents like Alan Plut think areas like Niagara Shores Park, which has lost more than 90 metres of shoreline over the last 70 years (an average of more than one metre a year), should be protected using measures like stone barriers, to preserve what’s left of the quickly eroding property.
“Shore up the banks and leave it alone,” says Plut. “At least stop the lake from claiming the land … then we’d still have a park.”
He says he would like to see the area cleaned up, so walkers wouldn’t have to worry about ticks, though he is cautious about losing the land to tourism, and would prefer to see it kept as a spot for locals. Others, like private land owner Bruce Ferguson, have left their properties to erode to preserve a beachfront.
Some residents living near Ryerson Park in Old Town, where the embankment was protected in 1997, say they miss having a beach.
“What’s Niagara-on-the-Lake if you’re not on the lake — if you don’t have access to the lake?” says Dave Glasz, who has spent his summers in NOTL since he was a child.
His parents bought a house with a tree growing through it, which he now owns, and the tree is still there; nature poking its head into life isn’t strange to him. He’d prefer to see the erosion, if it means having a place to lay down a towel.
Parks Canada did not have cost estimates done on different types of shoreline protection at Niagara Shores, after deciding to let it erode.
“Erosion is a natural process,” says Parks Canada asset manager Brendan Buggeln. “If lakeshores and rivers were left to themselves, there would be places that would be eroding, and places that would be building up with the sediment in the water.”
“There are a number of different things you can do, including allowing shoreline to erode where appropriate.”
Parks Canada this summer completed shoreline protection along the Niagara-on-the-Lake Golf Club up to Fort Mississauga, a national historic site. It cost almost $5 million and was finished in about 18 months, ahead of schedule.
Buggeln says the solution isn’t always cut and dry, and that different protection methods are appropriate for different areas. At Niagara Shores Park, shoreline protection would devastate the bank swallow population, he says.
“I don’t want to speak on behalf of Parks Canada of all the different things that other people should be doing, because different methods of shore protection are valid in different areas,” says Buggeln.
“I’d say that everything is a balance. We’re always balancing different things. In this case we know that there is concern about the changing landscape, and some of trees, but then that has to be balance with the bank swallows, the species at risk, who require this habitat. There’s less and less of this habitat available naturally. It’s important to maintain the small pieces that do still exist on the lakeshore.”
Bank swallow field researcher Liz Purves, of Bird Studies Canada, says she’d like to see bank swallows “kept in the conversation.”
“Before they start putting up these barriers to erosion, or damming up waterways and decreasing waterflow, which decreases erosion, I’d like them to just be aware that there are these birds around, that do require that erosion.”
Looking toward the future she’d like to see guidelines established for government bodies and developers, outlining methods of shoreline protection that can mitigate damage to bank swallow populations. No such recommendations exist currently.
She says more funding for Bird Studies Canada would help in efforts to create a plan and permit further research on artificial habitats for bank swallows.
“I think what frustrates a lot of people that aren’t government, aren’t municipalities is: no one is going to allow me, us to do that. What would happen if I started building my property out a mile into the lake? I’m sure someone is going to stop me — going to tell me I can’t do that.”
Dave and John Glasz say they’d like to see beachfront access at the rifle range property.
“If they could put a big rock barrier along the lake … similar to what they’ve done at the golf course, it would make the water accessible to the community at large. It would be a nice edition.
“And there’s a lot of property there,” adds Dave Glasz. “There could be a lot of beachfront.”
“Where the rifle range was, it’s a large open land. It could be a lot of things, and one of them could be access to the beach. Which is what I remember. Which is what I enjoy. It’s one of the reasons we’re living here in the summer, ’cause my parents loved it as well.”
“I would imagine to get the equipment in here to shore this up, you’re talking big money,” says Plut.