By Stuart Benson
Since the beginning of the 2020 tourist season, residents of Wakefield have been making their displeasure known on social media discussions about young people who are generally described as drunk, loud, and referring to them as “a new class of tourist”, congregating around the village’s docks and swimming areas.
Given the complaints, This Low Down reporter, mask on, took a stroll along Wakefield’s riverfront on Saturday, July 5, around 3 p.m. to meet this new breed of tourist. Many were observed, at least 10 answered our questions.
(A caveat: The Low Down wants to make it clear that the majority of those who visit the village, especially during the summer, are well-behaved tourists who rarely make the news.)
Just as I was approaching the public docks across from Khewa Native Art Boutique, Pluprat and Patrick, 28 and 29-year-olds who told me that they were visiting from Ottawa, were being informed by two police officers they would need to vacate the docks.
It wasn’t immediately apparent what the two had done to be singled out. The other 20-30 people overcrowding the dock were given a general warning about respecting social distancing by the officers. However, after Pluprat and Patrick stood up, both cradling multiple beers in their arms, and when Pluprat stumbled unsteadily on the dock, appearing to be inebriated, it became much more clear why the police may have singled those two out from the rest.
Unfortunately, when I attempted to interview the two, Pluprat, seemingly nervous, answered all of my questions in the form of a shouted compliment of the performance and service provided by the two officers, who were still within earshot. Pluprat’s friend, Patrick, eventually dragged his friend away.
After chatting with some others on the docks, many of them also clearly inebriated after parking themselves on the dock for most of the day, a few locals pointed across the river to the large crowd congregating around the Wakefield Covered Bridge.
I arrived at the Covered Bridge just in time to see the not-uncommon sight of two people climbing through the openings on the side of the bridge and standing on a ledge on the outside wall, preparing to jump. For the next hour, I sat on the rocks below the bridge, trying my best to keep a safe distance between myself and the over 50 people jockeying for space on the bank and the rocky outcropping, which regularly appears in the summer with the low water levels. During that time, I saw one young person after another jump from the bridge to the river below.
I spoke to roughly 10 people, all who told me they were from Ottawa, most of them appearing to be inebriated and almost none wearing masks and said they were repeat visitors who already knew about the bridge. When I was there, the noise wasn’t excessively loud for the size of the crowd, and I didn’t see much littering. However, there were no garbage cans in sight, so what the crowd had been using to dispose of their litter is a mystery.
“Are you a cop?” asked one man, when I got to the foot of the stairs leading from the bridge down to the water. He wouldn’t really speak to me, but one of his friends did inform me that, if I wanted to jump, I had to make sure to jump from 10 segments out and, if I did, he would be happy to watch my camera and valuables while I did so. I politely declined.
One couple who was willing to speak with me, Alex and Veronique – from Ottawa as well –, said it was nice to be able to come to the bridge when it was quiet, pointing out that this area is typically much more crowded.
“Usually, there are at least 100 people down here,” Veronique explained. “Though there’s not really room to socially distance either way.”
In the beginning of June, there was an uproar from residents when ‘no-swimming’ signs were installed by the waterfront across from Turntable Park in Wakefield. La Pêche Mayor Guillaume Lamoureux quickly clarified that “swimming was never the issue” and that the real problem was getting control of the situation on the docks.
Walking along Wakefield’s boardwalk, from the public docks all the way to the covered bridge, I was reminded of that episode and how it mirrored the issues faced by Amity Island in the movie “Jaws”. In that film, the mayor causes untold damage when he refuses to close the beach to guard against the danger in the water. In Wakefield, the mayor had to apologize for closing the water over the danger on the riverside.
Either way, Wakefield is probably going to need a bigger dock.