• Nikki Mantell

Swim rocks need warning signs

Another family has lost a son to the deceptively treacherous waters at the Wakefield swim rock.


The drowning on July 25 is like a horrifying mirror image of another tragedy in 2015: same popular swim spot, both victims were exchange students, both in their early 20s, both poor swimmers, both bodies eventually pulled out with the help of Sûreté du Québec divers.


Both are horrible tragedies.


When reporting the 2015 drowning, Sgt. Martin Fournel told The Low Down it was the first death at the rocks during his 19 years on the MRC Police force. Now we have two in five years. In earlier years, the rocks were mostly enjoyed by locals who presumably understood the dangers of the fast current, deceptive eddy, and underwater rocks at this spot. Or perhaps, most understood that all bodies of water come with risks.


But in more recent years, the rocks have been “discovered,” drawing increasing numbers of visitors. Back in 2015, the cops had put the number as high as 300 in one day. Since then, the numbers have only gone up. Locals have given up on finding a spot on the packed rocks on a sunny day now.


In 2016, the municipality bought the land near the covered bridge for $1, and it became a municipal park. This move was welcomed by council and residents because, finally, bylaws against drinking, noise, and other nuisances could be applied and, more importantly, enforced by police. Signs went up on the covered bridge spelling out these rules in the hopes of improving the increasingly problematic situation of people partying at the water’s edge.


What did not go up were any signs about the river’s safety risks. When La Pêche passed the resolution to make the land a municipal park we reported: “There will be signs posted informing visitors that the site has bylaws and that there is no lifeguard on duty in the potentially dangerous waters.”


No such signs ever went up, even though then-mayor Robert Bussière called it “quite a dangerous site” to which he would never take his family to swim. Not even a “swim at your own risk” sign. That summer we reported a “makeshift no swimming sign” had been posted on the stairs from the bridge by the municipality, which was torn down just days later. That was it.


Rivers - and life in general - come with risks. The municipality can’t be responsible for everyone’s safety and has not recognized the Wakefield swim rocks as an approved place to swim — nor should it, not only because of the liability issues. But official or not, the land has become a very popular defacto swim spot. Visitors with no understanding of the river are watching all the other people splashing around happily and using that as an erroneous indicator that it is safe for people with varying swimming skills. It is not. Locals may understand the risk, but last week proved some visitors do not.


La Pêche needs to make good on its promise, now five years old, and install large, clearly communicated – perhaps in universal pictograms – permanent warning signs saying “Dangerous Current” and “Risk of Drowning” immediately. This small investment could save a life.