• Stuart Benson

Lock the rock

Wakefield candidate proposes fence, barbed wire around popular swim spot


Ward 6 candidate Shawn DeNeire has a simple, if drastic solution to keep swimmers safe at the popular gathering spot near the covered bridge in Wakefield: a chain link fence and loops of barbed wire.


“Absolutely I would close it off,” DeNeire told The Low Down, explaining that he was sick of waiting with no action being taken. “Problem finished, no more drownings.”


After the latest drowning near the Pont Gendron Bridge in Wakefield on July 25, the incumbent Ward 6 councillor Claude Giroux told The Low Down that council would be taking further action to improve safety around the area, including signage indicating the waters’ dangerous currents.


Shawn DeNeire (left) and Claude Giroux are running for the La Pêche council ward 2 seat. Low Down file photos
Shawn DeNeire (left) and Claude Giroux are running for the La Pêche council ward 2 seat. Low Down file photos

That drowning was the second in less than six years, following a similar incident in 2015.


The 2015 drowning spurred residents to demand action from the municipality to combat the dangerous behaviour that had been increasingly on display at the swim rocks, including loud, intoxicated, and sometimes nude visitors playing music at full volume, and jumping from the covered bridge.


In November of 2015, the property at the foot of the covered bridge was officially transferred to the ownership of the municipality, allowing the MRC Police to regularly patrol the location and enforce municipal bylaws against jumping from the bridge and public intoxication. The municipality also installed signage indicating the rules in force.


Giroux, who had drafted the proposal to turn the spot into a public park in 2015, had promised extra signage informing visitors of the waters’ dangerous current as well as “no lifeguard on duty” type signs.


It’s been three months since the most recent drowning and since The Low Down spoke with Giroux about signage, and there are still no signs warning swimmers of the danger at the swimming spot.


When Giroux was asked to comment on the lack of signage on Oct. 18, he seemed unaware of what signs had or had not been erected.


"Thank you for telling me, I'll make a note and push for that," Giroux said. "I don't go to the rocks often, so I never really noticed."


Giroux said he believes that improved management of the area is a better solution than attempting to restrict access, arguing it would upset more people than it would make happy.


He explained that restricting access to the swimming area had been considered by the municipality in 2015 when they purchased the land, but decided against it due the potential public outcry, and how fencing it off wouldn't necessarily prevent people from accessing the rocks.


“It would most likely just displace them to another part of the river, or people would access it from the hill on the side of Chemin de Wakefield Heights,” Giroux said.


Giroux said that, if elected, he would ensure that the signs would be installed by the summer of 2022.


‘stand up for the taxpayer’


For DeNeire, the lack of action on the swimming rocks is only one small part of what he said he feels is a sense of inaction on the part of the municipality, pointing to the poor state of repair the boardwalk and public docks along Chemin Riverside have fallen into. Public safety is also high on his priority list.


“If I get elected, there are some serious problems that will need to be addressed,” DeNeire said. “My ultimate focus will be public safety focusing on children and seniors.”


DeNeire spent much of the weekend on Oct. 16-17 canvassing voters door to door, and said that residents have told him they feel there is a “huge gap” between the concerns they have and the action being taken by council.


“They're making calls to complain, but nothing is being done, not even a reply," DeNeire said. "They call [Giroux] and never hear from him again."


DeNeire said a number of the residents he has spoken to were even unaware of who the Ward 6 councilor was.


"The municipality needs to start investing in the people who already live here that want to invest in their community," DeNeire said. “Someone needs to stand up for the taxpayer."


In response, Giroux defended his record on improving public safety and security over the past four years, pointing to the installation of electronic speedometers on the sides of roads, new stop signs near Wakefield Elementary, and speed reduction measures on Chemin Rockhurst.


"There are a lot of things that I and the council have done for public safety and security over the past four years," Giroux said. "[B]ut if more needs to be done, it shall be done."


Giroux explained that he hasn’t been canvassing door to door. Instead he’s been reaching out to voters by phone, due to concerns about COVID-19.


“I'm very leery of doing [door-to-door]," Giroux said. "I think [phone calls] is the responsible thing to do."