Time has come for province to reconsider lifeguard program

It’s generally late spring when former Sandbanks lifeguard-turned-advocate John Watt and his wife, Olympic medalist Elaine Tanner, take a tour through Prince Edward County and happen to drop by the Picton Gazette office.

COVID-19 and the dissuading of travel between regions likely put a pause to Wasaga Beach-based Watt’s regular visit to his old stomping grounds in 2020 but we can say with great confidence Prince Edward County and Sandbanks will be firmly entrenched on his mind in the coming days due to the drowning death of 20-year-old Shivam Arora at the Dunes beach Monday.

While the Office of the Chief Corner of Ontario is investigating Arora’s death and greater detail will emerge through that probe, here’s what we know.

Arora was swimming with some friends along a stretch of the Dunes where there’s a drastic drop off just a few metres from the water’s edge. After he failed to surface and friends began to worry, a 911 call was made and the Prince Edward County Fire and Rescue, the OPP and Hastings-Quinte Paramedic Services rushed to the scene.

We also know that, if the pictures on the front page of this edition of the Gazette are any indication, winds (at least in that section of the beach) were relatively light on West Lake Monday evening.

We will await with confidence that the Office of the Chief Corner will speak with witnesses-Arora’s friends and people at the beach at the time of the incident, first responders and those paramedics who performed CPR at the scene, on the way to Prince Edward County Memorial Hospital and the attending physicians- and make a reasonable determination as to the cause of Arora’s death. What we don’t know at this point is what Ministry of the Environment, Conservation and Parks is going to do about this latest drowning at one of their popular stops in the Ontario Parks system.

The Gazette does not posses the hard facts on every drowning and near drowning incident at Sandbanks in the last five years but we know anecdotally there seems to be a troubling trend developing.

When Watt was last in our office, it was with emotion he recalled the 2018 drowning death of little Javaughn Black, a 7-year-old Jamaican visiting family in Ontario. Later that summer, a pair of female bathers were plucked from the waters of Athol Bay and revived before being taken to PECMH within minutes of one another. Although they survived, their long term condition remains unknown to the general public.

Last year, friends of the Gazette just happened to be on scene and rescued a pair of novice swimmers at the Dunes when they became distressed. Thankfully, all parties survived to tell the tale but it was a terrifying couple of minutes as one swimmer needed to be revived via CPR.

While this paper is loath to deal in generalities such as these, most people growing up in Prince Edward County have an ingrained respect of the water. It’s natural to learn these things when you live on an island and are never more than half an hour away from a stretch of shoreline.

But not everyone, visitor and local alike, is so blessed as to understand the gravity of stiff westerly winds and the pounding of waves or the significant drop offs at the various swimming hot spots-even when signage might indicate these potential pitfalls.

We echo Watt and Tanner’s call for the province to reinstitute the lifeguard program immediately at busy Ontario Parks beaches if only as a pilot program to gauge both the need and success rate of having those individuals at the ready. It’s our fear there will be several more links in the chain of drowning deaths in our local waters before there is some leadership and action on this matter.

-Jason Parks


KINSMEN CLUB COMES THROUGH – Kinsmen Club of Picton Members (Left) Rick Caruso and (Right) Ross Lindsay present Seona Halsey of the Picton United Church County Food Bank a cheque for $1,500. Also included in the donation from the local service club was a donation of half a dozen Metro grocery store gift cards. (Submitted Photo)