POLITICS

No fences to protect wayward tourists from the ocean at Peggy's Cove: minister

07/09/2015 12:46 EDT | Updated 07/09/2016 05:59 EDT
HALIFAX - The Nova Scotia government has firmly quashed the idea of installing fences on the large, smooth rocks at Peggy's Cove, saying the barriers wouldn't deter thrill-seeking gawkers from getting too close to the ocean.

Municipal Affairs Minister Mark Furey, speaking after a Thursday cabinet meeting, said the government will instead install new warning signs in response to two recent incidents of people falling into the rough surf.

As well, Furey said the government is considering installation of a fence around a nearby parking lot that tourists use, saying the fence could guide them toward the warning signs.

"Under no circumstances would we ever consider placing a fence out on the rock portion of Peggy's Cove," said Furey, a former Mountie. "My experience is that people go over and around those barriers."

Peggy's Cove is famous for its landscape of stark granite boulders, crashing Atlantic seas and postcard-perfect lighthouse. But the rocks can be slippery and rogue waves have been known to sweep onlookers into the ocean.

Earlier this month, a 26-year-old Ontario man was rescued after falling from the rocks. The Mounties say he was in the ocean for 10 minutes before he was pulled from the churning water by the crew aboard a nearby tour boat.

In April, a 25-year-old man from Ontario was swept off the rocks and wasn't recovered.

The two incidents prompted a wave of commentary on social media, much of it hurling abuse at people from outside the province who are unfamiliar with the fickle moods of the sea.

In a recent letter to the Halifax Chronicle Herald, a man who describes himself as a friend of the man rescued on July 2 said he was unaware of the danger of walking on the cove's slick, black rocks.

"The danger of the ocean is unknown to most visitors to Atlantic Canada," the letter says. "We come for sun, lobster and your famous hospitality. What we don't recognize is the inherent peril of coastal activities."

The letter goes on to state the Nova Scotia government is "sitting on its hands while the visitors ... die or are injured ... (and) stating that my friend was 'lucky' and that everyone from Ontario is stupid — as many have on social media— is a pathetic response."

Furey said a meeting Wednesday for provincial, federal and local officials reviewed a 2010 report that outlined short- and long-term safety measures. Another meeting will be held in two weeks following a site visit that will focus on improving signage, he said.

During a visit to the area Sunday, Furey said he noticed that some warning signs were missing and others were difficult to see.

One sign embedded in the rock warns: "Injury and death have rewarded careless sight-seers here. The ocean and rocks are treacherous. Savour the sea from a distance."

Furey said installing ring buoys, ropes and other safety equipment on the rocks could create additional hazards.

"It's one thing to stand on a beach and toss an item, it's another thing to stand on a slippery rock and toss an item," he said.

As for reinstating a local patrol group, the minister said it wasn't a good idea. "People don't always adhere to that kind of advice and direction," he said.

In May 2000, the province cancelled a patrol program, saying it was impossible to guarantee the safety of the five students hired every summer to remind tourists to keep a safe distance from the water.

The May-to-October patrol was created in March 1995 after a couple was swept into the frigid Atlantic by a huge wave. The man was pounded into the rocks, breaking his legs, while the woman was swept out to sea and drowned.