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Petition urging the return of lifeguards to Pacific Rim National Park Reserve

MP Gord Johns joins push to bring surf guard program back to beach between Tofino and Ucluelet
Surf guards onced looked out over Lovekin Rock from this tower before the program was axed by Parks Canada budget cuts in 2012. (Westerly file photo)

Gord Johns is renewing his plea for lifeguards to return to the Pacific Rim National Park Reserve.

The Courtenay-Alberni MP says he recently hand-delivered a letter to Environment Minister Steven Guilbeault in the House of Commons warning lives could be lost if supervision is not reinstated at the Park Reserve’s Lovekin Rock location.

“Since 2018, when I first asked the government to reinstate the Surf Guard Program, three more people have died at Long Beach. All of these deaths were due to the dangerous riptides at Lovekin Rock. In each case only bystanders were on hand to assist but tragically it wasn’t enough,” the letter reads.

Lifeguards looked over Long Beach for about 40 years up until 2012 when the surf guard program fell prey to Parks Canada budget cuts, leading to the surf guard tower that had looked over Lovekin Rock being dismantled.

Johns noted Long Beach has only grown in popularity since then, rising from an average of roughly 750,000 visitors a year in 2012 to over a million in 2020.

“Long Beach has never been busier and it isn’t just July and August any more,” Johns said. “Parks Canada has focussed on signage and information but this doesn’t reach everyone and even those who access information may not understand what a riptide is and how to avoid the dangers.”

West Coast resident Justin Merk launched a petition calling for lifeguards to return in 2019 that received 829 signatures including Victoria Orr, whose mother tragically drowned at Lovekin in 2018.

“I’m so happy Justin started this petition, and included me and my sister in it,” Orr told the Westerly News at the time. “If this can prevent just one accident, I think it is worth it. I never want anyone to go through what our family did.”

Johns presented Merk’s petition to the House of Commons, but Parks Canada remained steadfast that lifeguards would not return, instead pointing to collaborations between Tofino and Ucluelet’s local governments as well as the CoastSmart program to increase visitor safety.

A new petition is now circulating after being launched by Surf Sister owner Krissy Montgomery last month.

“Decades ago Lovekin Rock at Long Beach was considered an extremely dangerous location for swimmers which is why a lifeguard program was established,”Montgomery said. “The only thing that has changed since 2012 is more visitors, more fatalities and more rescues.”

Montgomery’s petition has received 229 signatures so far and can be found at

The petition notes three people have died near Lovekin since 2018 and many rescues have been conducted, often by surf instructors in the area.

“Currently, emergencies are attended by Parks Canada in collaboration with the Canadian Coast Guard, Westcoast Inland Search and Rescue, B.C. Emergency Response Group and the RCMP. The reality is, however, that rescues are routinely carried out by surfers and beachgoers who happen to be on the scene because of the time it takes for emergency responders to arrive,” Johns’ letter reads.

“Surely it is not acceptable for Parks Canada to rely on surf instructors and others to act voluntarily as de facto lifeguards, carrying out multiple rescues each season. Unfortunately, they are being required to do the job of first responders but their presence at the right place at the right time is not guaranteed.”

In an emailed statement to the Westerly News on Monday, a Parks Canada spokesperson said surf guards will not be returning to Long Beach.

“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 statement reads.

It adds that Parks Canada is “committed to providing visitors with safe and meaningful experiences as well as with the information they need to make informed decisions” and that collaboration on water safety is key

“Parks Canada collaborates with the municipalities of Tofino and Ucluelet, tourism-based businesses, and safety organizations such as British Columbia Association of Surf Instruction (BCASI) to implement the CoastSmart campaign. The campaign aims to educate visitors about ocean hazards and enable visitors to make informed decisions before and during their visit to the coast,” it reads.

“Parks Canada reminds visitors to learn how to be safe near or in the water by visiting the CoastSmart initiative website so that visitors are better able to meet their responsibility of making informed safety decisions.”

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