The West Coast is mourning after a fatal drowning near Tofino on Saturday night.
Sgt. Chris Manseau of the BC RCMP said police were called to Long Beach around 6 p.m. on Aug. 7 and by the time they arrived, a person was receiving first aid. He added the BC Coroner’s Office is investigating the incident.
“It’s a terrible tragedy,” Tofino mayor Dan Law told the Westerly News. “The community certainly feels the depth of this tragedy. We are a very small community and, when something like this happens, it affects everybody…My deepest condolences go out to the people involved. It’s just a very, very tragic event and we’re all very saddened by it.”
He expressed gratitude to the local first responders who arrived at the scene.
“We have a small but very dedicated, professional emergency response community here on the Coast and we’re very thankful for them and want to support them in any way we can,” he said.
While details about the incident remained scarce on Monday, the tragedy has renewed calls to bring lifeguards back to Long Beach. Lifeguards watched over the beach as part of the Pacific Rim National Park Reserve’s Surf Guard program for 40 years before Canada’s federal government axed the program in 2012.
“I can’t think of anywhere else in this country with that many people in the water and no lifeguards,” Courtenay-Alberni MP Gord Johns told the Westerly. “It’s deeply troubling…It’s unbelievable to be honest with you. I don’t understand it at all.”
Johns has consistently called for the Surf Guard program to return and supported a petition filed by Ucluelet resident Justin Merk to restore the program in 2019 that received 829 signatures.
He noted it is not known whether lifeguards could have prevented Saturday’s tragedy, but said the growing number of visitors and incidents at Long Beach needs to be addressed.
“My condolences go to the family and the loved ones of the person who died in this tragedy. My heart goes out to them,”he said.
“We need eyes on the water. We need Surf Guards…There’s more and more people visiting our region than ever before. We’re seeing more people in what used to be our winter slow months than we did in our peak months in August and July ten years ago when the Conservative government irresponsibly wiped out the Surf Guard program.”
Law noted there have been several drowning deaths at Long Beach over the past few years.
“Unfortunately this is not the first time this has happened and I hope that the communities and Parks Canada can get together and do something about this,” Law said. “I am in support of the Surf Guard program returning to the Coast. Clearly there’s a need for it, clearly there’s a risk as we’re seeing and I think it’s wise and prudent to take action.”
He acknowledged there is signage at the Park Reserve warning visitors of the dangers of the ocean, but more is needed.
“It’s very common for me to hear stories about local surfers saving people who are drowning or near drowning. That’s a fairly regular narrative that comes to my attention and I think we really need to think about that and think of strategies to keep people safer in the water, especially with the increased number of tourists every year,” he said. “We’re seeing people enter the water that are not familiar with the ocean, they’re not familiar with currents or riptides; they’re inexperienced. I do not know the details of this particular incident, but I do know that in the past all of those have factored into drownings and tragedies that have happened on our Coast.”
Johns suggested lifeguards are on duty at National Parks in both Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island and questioned why the federal government refuses to bring lifeguards back to the Pacific Rim National Park Reserve despite higher visitation.
“This is bizarre to say the least with the concentration of visitation and the amount of people in an area of concern where we’ve had multiple incidents, some fatal…I have no idea why they’re so resistant,” he said. “We want to see people outdoors, enjoying themselves and being physically active, but we also want to make sure we’re doing it responsibly.”
The Westerly News reached out to the Pacific Rim National Park Reserve for comment, but did not receive a response by presstime.