Let the people toast marshmallows: Quebec town to lift bonfire ban

Rimouski mayor wants families to be able to toast marshmallows by the water. But, some residents worry drunken revellers will ruin the fun.

But some residents fear onslaught of drunken revellers

The Rimouski bylaw against beachside fires is set to be lifted on June 20. (Radio-Canada/François Gagnon)

For decades, the coastal Quebec town of Rimouski tried to crack down on summer drunkenness and disorder with a ban on beachside bonfires.

But Rimouski's mayor, Marc Parent, believes the time has come to revisit the policy. 

"We want to give families a chance to have a countryside experience sitting along the beach ... to let children toast marshmallows," Parent said.

Beginning June 20, people enjoying Rimouski's 55 kilometres of coastline and riverside will be free to relax around a fire. Rimouski is about 300 kilometres northeast of Quebec City. 

They will, however, be required to keep fires under 60 centimetres and put them out by 11 p.m. Fires will also not be allowed on excessively windy evenings.

Rimouski Mayor Marc Parent said it is time to welcome families who want to light a bonfire responsibly along the shoreline. (Radio-Canada)

'Young people who will come to party'

But even with these restrictions, residents who live along the shorelines of the St. Lawrence and Rimouski rivers are worried the fires will only encourage unruly behaviour near their homes. 

"This morning, there were already five fires still burning," said André Chouinard, who lives near the water in Rimouski's Nazareth neighbourhood.

"We often find broken beer bottles next to those fires, beer cans that have been left there and all kinds of plastic garbage that goes into the river when the tide comes in."

Some living along the St. Lawrence shoreline worry that allowing bonfires will encourage unruly behaviour. (Radio-Canada/François Gagnon)

Marc-Antoine Jutras, who lives in the nearby Rocher-Blanc neighbourhood, has started a petition calling for a halt to the city's plans. He intends to present the petition during the next municipal meeting, June 19th.

"It's not just families who are going to come here," he said. "We know who it's going to be — young people who will come to party."

Another resident, Doris Labonté, is not against the change, but is worried rules meant to keep the fires in-check will not be enforced.

"Fires are illegal right now, but there are dozens of them," she said.

A local environmental committee, ZIP du Sud-de-l'Estuaire, is concerned legal fires will attract groups who could trample or burn the coastal plant life, including the dune grass it has been planting for eight years to fight coastal erosion.

Total ban the 'easy route,' mayor says

The mayor says he is open to changing the regulation to deal with their concerns, but says the city already has laws against public drunkenness, noise and creating a public nuisance.

A local environment committee has spent years planting dune grass along the Rimouski shoreline to protect from erosion. They worry it will get trampled by revellers attracted by bonfires. (Radio-Canada/François Gagnon)

He considers a blanket fire ban to be a lazy way of dealing with poor behaviour.

"Often times municipalities will take the easy route: 'You've got an issue, let's cut everyone's rights,'" he said.

"We're confident that we will be able to satisfy everyone."

With files from Ariane Perron Langlois