Hot ‘n humid Pontiac summer

How do you and your family beat the heat?

As far as I can tell, of the best places to be for the past fortnight has been beside one of the Pontiac’s lakes or rivers. Relatively wild rivers such as the Black, Coulonge and Dumoine offer challenging through to novice canoeing, while the Ottawa gives us sailing, rafting as well as just plain paddling about.

We’re fortunate to have such a remarkable choice of recreational options.

Which brings me to Norway Bay’s pier and beach.

There was sizeable opposition when a public beach was initially proposed. To my recollection, nearby cottagers weren’t keen because of concerns over property values declining – and, frankly, concerns over the behaviour of the public. Nonetheless, the development took place, and now we have a pretty park, popular beach, and beautifully landscaped pier, complete with fragrant rosebushes.

After spending several summers enjoying the shallow, broad sweep of beach and its delightful promenade of pier – not to mention the excellent deep-water swimming from the pier — I can personally attest to its definite attractions.

I’ve enjoyed my godchildren’s reaction to it, too. As toddlers, they splashed about in the shallows beyond the beach. Now that they’re teenagers, we’ve all done cannonballs from the pier and swum lengths in the deep water off its edge.

My family is by no means alone: as our large family group of 15 or so splashed about, many others were doing exactly the same.

Moreover, several of the kids enjoyed taking their turn on the Norway Bay tennis and basketball courts. As others arrived to use the courts, a friendly exchange occurred, and the newcomers took their turns.

What an excellent destination for families.

But this week’s column isn’t simply about thoughtful and much-needed family recreation facilities in the Pontiac.

As several people on the pier noticed on Saturday July 6, there was one man on a personal watercraft who made a mockery of common sense. While a small knot of people (possibly family members?) watched him, he roared around making giant wakes, which buckled the pier’s coupled decking, making it dangerous if not impossible to use. Swimmers were awash in the wake and it became nigh impossible to use the ladders to get out of the water.

I wasn’t there to see it, but two friends who had cycled to the pier with their daughter observed this fellow actually riding his machine inside the roped-off swimming area off the pier that was clearly marked by buoys.

As a particularly obnoxious finale, this idiot swooped towards the pier and sent an immense “tidal wave” of water up and over its side. It drenched a woman who was minding her own business, quietly reading. Was she annoyed? Oh yes.

I couldn’t hear her words, but his rejoinder was to shrug. Immediately after this, he left, loading his machine onto a trailer and disappearing up Wharf Road.

This man’s behaviour is akin to those people who give dogs and hunters a bad rap. Although readers of this column will know that I think these sea-do machines should be banned entirely, I have to recognize that some people use them and enjoy them sensibly.

Is it time to ban these machines from being used at Norway Bay’s pier? I would say so, personally, because this man’s thoughtless behaviour could have hurt someone.

If the driver doesn’t have the wit to know that he shouldn’t scoot about inside a cordoned off swimming zone, if he doesn’t have the awareness to realize that the spray from his machine would drench someone quietly reading, if he doesn’t realize that those of us shouting at him from shore were hoping to get him to move away from the swimming area, then he’s too cocky, too witless to be driving a dangerous machine.

He might counter that there was no-one in the water. Right. First of all, with the commotion of the wake, I believe he couldn’t possibly have known. Secondly, with the amount of wake, most of us – particularly kids – didn’t want to jump in.

You know as well as I do that it only takes one thoughtless individual to ruin something for everyone, whether it be these personal craft, dogs, hunting, whatever.

We need an environment of respect for one another. Let’s all do our part.

Plume of smoke

According to a CBC interview this morning from the Forest Fire Prevention Agency in Maniwaki, eight fires continue to rage out of control in Quebec’s north. As I write, the fire area is four times the city of Montreal. Although there are “only” eight that are ranked out of control, there are over thirty fires raging in the northland, where conifer trees provide resin-filled tinder.

On Saturday, while at Norway Bay, it was impossible not to notice the heavy, smoggy air. We were with two asthma sufferers, who were moderately concerned about the small particulate matter borne in the air.

And the Pontiac is not the only area to be affected. Smoke from these fires has clouded the skies over Washington, and for the last two days is affecting the Maritime provinces.

Unlike the fearsome Colorado fires, lightening started the Quebec fires. Ms Charlotte Légère from the Forest Fire Prevention Agency noted that although it’s rare for smoke to travel so extensively, it did happen in 1996.

She also commented about fire prevention. In many countries and some provinces, fires are deliberately set by trained personnel so as to prevent the likelihood of raging, out-of-control fires such as what we’re experiencing now. But it’s a hot debate, she noted, because if firefighters lose control of the fires they set, they’ve created the very conditions they’ve tried to avoid.

It’s an interesting question. Since ancient times, people have set fires to clear ground for crops. Our Eastern Woodlands First Nations Peoples did this. But the public at large don’t know this. While out in Banff National Park three years ago, I interviewed a warden who advocates selective burns. But he also noted that people like you and me don’t understand the concept.

Perhaps we need further discussion and education about this. From what Ms Légère was saying, I understand that it’s currently under review in Quebec.


Katharine Fletcher is a freelance writer who telecommutes from Quyon, Quebec. This is “your” environment forum, so she welcomes your comments and letters to the editor. Express your opinion!