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Spoiler alert: We don’t have beaches in Saskatoon

By in Opinions

ZACH TENNENT 

Opinions Editor 

Despite the efforts of some to change the perception of the river on a hot summer’s day, a sandbar is not a beach and some of us seem to be forgetting that.

So far in a notably dry and hot summer, many have been flocking to the South Saskatchewan River’s emerging sandbars to enjoy the water and beach-like atmosphere.

Unfortunately, these people seem to be forgetting their location. Saskatoon’s sandbars are highly inhospitable and undesirable places to be.

On June 9, Les MacPherson of The StarPhoenix wrote an editorial titled “Why are we so afraid of the water?” In this article, MacPherson suggests that the City of Saskatoon should be utilizing all that the river has to offer with a designated public beach, complete with all the necessary amenities, despite the no swimming bylaws and inherent hazards that currently prevent such a “beach” from being established.

We shouldn’t be encouraging people to swim in the river to begin with and the very idea of a beach on the riverbank is flawed beyond salvation.

MacPherson argues that the risk of drowning posed by the river’s current should not deter swimmers, as they could very well drown at any other beach in the world.

Among a number of fallacies, this argument furthers the skewed perception that Saskatoon’s sandbars are beaches — or that they are consistent and safe enough to be treated as such.

Saskatoon already has a number of indoor and outdoor pools and MacPherson — who seems to think that public safety is a terrible argument against swimming — can rest assured that over the years plenty of people have drowned at these establishments too, so it’s not as if Saskatoon swimmers don’t already have plenty of opportunities to get hurt or killed in the process.

While the aesthetic appearances of these so-called beaches could surely be changed for the better, maintaining a viable business on an ever-shifting landmass, improving the sanitation of the water and taming its current would prove to be far tougher tasks.

The river is swift, smelly and abounding with garbage. To think that a beach would be feasible — let alone desirable — is to be delusional.

Even if the city ever did open a beach with refreshments, restrooms and the like, it’s still not as if these businesses would ever accomplish the kind of blockbuster sales that MacPherson seems to imagine.

Who among us — especially out of those who would pick a river over a public pool — would choose to buy a four dollar bottle of water or abstain from drinking alcohol at a public beach when one could simply migrate down river and continue to bring one’s own food and drink as before?

Assuming that a public beach would require lifeguards just as public pools do, their wages would thus be wasted on protecting a beach that would go neglected and unattended as people continued to illegally swim elsewhere.

As it stands, the city’s approach to sandbar swimmers is imperfect, but about as optimal as it could possibly be.

The city actively discourages swimming through the existence of bylaws, while also avoiding any type of mass crackdown — a fact the Saskatoon Police Service has publicly acknowledged. The city is thus free of the liability it fears, while the swimmers are more or less free to act at their own risk.

The adage of “rules were meant to be broken” is tired and debatable but at the end of the day, it’s pretty accurate. It’s hot out and next to nothing is going to keep some people out of the river when they want to take a dip. That does not mean, however, that the current level of passive complacency should give way to even the slightest level of encouragement.

If people want to swim in the river, let them, but don’t encourage the thought that they’ve got the right idea.

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  • Colin Wesley Gibbings

    After a year of opinions articles featuring vacuous arguments about issues that require more thought than simply playing devil’s advocate, I’m glad to see one that is well thought out and informative. Thank you for this.

  • Hannah May Thorpe

    I can agree and disagree with this. I think the technicality of terminology is mostly irrelevant here, when deciding whether safety is an issue; there is land and there is water. Both can be ruined by the public when uncared for, and both ocean and river water’s bear currents, tides, or potential dangerous wildlife. The danger/safety and upkeep of either depend on us and only us, the combination of the public using them and those who have responsibility over them (local cities/councils/owners of the land).

    The reason why it is illegal is because of the safety issue. Yes there are dangerous currents, but the same can be said for any other body of wild water beside a local pond. Should something happen to someone where a sign isn’t put up or a lifeguard/life-float isn’t around, the case of liability shows its ugly head. Why not hire a lifeguard or send volunteers to help clean up? Money. They have other areas to spend it. It makes little sense to spend money and resources on a beach that would not likely make much revenue, and, in such a climate as ours, would only be seasonal.

    This bylaw, in particular, isn’t being broken for the sake of anarchy and what is perceived in this article as what may be the “right idea” is interesting. The safety hazards are the same as any other beach or sandbar, wild swimming is legal in many places around the world – first world and third, western and eastern. Certain waters may be prohibited due to private lands, fishing jurisdiction, particular nature preserves, smaller sailing routes, or for particularly dangerous areas – or, in this case, it is a matter of liability.

    Wild swimming can work, but a relationship has to be born between the public accessing the land/water and those who bear responsibility over the land/water. A proven working relationship can be found in Scotland’s system, who follow their own “Outdoor Access Code”. The 2003 Land Reform Act (of Scotland) allows the public to access most of Scotland’s outdoors, land and water. Given that they uphold to the code, they can continue to access the land. It is based on three principles:

    Respect: Respect the privacy, safety, livelihoods of those who live/work/access the land. That applies to those who use it, and those who own it.

    Care: Look after the place you visit, those who own the land must do this too.

    Responsibility: Take responsibility for your own actions. It is common-sense that the outdoors does not come risk-free.

    The only “wrong idea” we have here is that we are breaking a bylaw. I’m a huge advocate for safety and guidelines, laws were predominantly made to protect us. But, others prohibit for the sake of politics or corporation, or other. You could argue what’s more dangerous, marijuana or alcohol? Same-sex marriage was illegal, still remaining so in many parts of the world – does that make it a “right idea”? Law does not always equate to right or wrong, it protects. The argument that it protects those who may be hurt or worse in the moving waters cannot be ignored, but I have to agree with MacPherson on the notion that people can still drown in the ocean. So why not make it illegal to swim on beaches? The law is to protect the city.

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