Drownings are down in Ontario this year — but perhaps not for long

Fewer people have drowned in Ontario in 2019 compared to previous years, but experts say the trend isn't likely to hold. 

Cold winter, cool spring to thank for fewer fatal incidents so far

The Lifesaving Society says drowning incidents in Ontario are lower this year, but will likely rise as the weather warms. (Yvon Theriault/CBC)

Fewer people have drowned in Ontario in 2019 compared to previous years, but experts say the trend isn't likely to hold. 

According to data from the Lifesaving Society, 38 people have drowned in the province as of July 11, down from 48 around the same time in 2018. 

The reason for the decrease likely has to do with this year's frigid start to summer, said Chris Wagg, vice-president of public education with the agency's Ontario branch. 

"If we have a big heatwave in May, before lifeguards are out, people then venture out into unsupervised rivers or where rivers are still very swift moving," she said. 

"But I would say the decrease would be because it was cold this spring." 

Lifeguards are normally present on Ottawa's four public beaches during the warmest part of summer — this year, between June 15 and Aug. 25. 

Chris Wagg, the vice-president of the Ontario chapter of the Lifesaving Society, says this year's cool start to summer may have kept drowning numbers down. (Trevor Pritchard/CBC)

There was also a decrease in winter drowning incidents this year due to colder temperatures, according to Barbara Byers, director of public education with the Lifesaving Society. 

"Fewer people were going through the ice because the water was frozen for longer," she said. 

Between 2007 and 2016, an average of 160 people have died in Ontario each year in water-related incidents, according to a report from the agency. 

More incidents in warmer weather

Despite that decrease, Byers said the number of drownings is likely to rise in the coming weeks, with many people taking holidays around this time of year.

Between July 2 and 11, 10 people drowned in Ontario, representing the biggest jump in numbers in such a short time frame this year. 

A two-year-old girl died after being found in a backyard swimming pool near Perth, Ont. on Friday. 

Just two days earlier, a 79-year-old woman and her four-year-old granddaughter were both found face down in a pool in Oakville, Ont.  The four-year-old is now in stable condition, though her grandmother was pronounced dead at the scene. 

Wagg said age makes no difference when it comes to water safety.

"Swim with a buddy no matter what age, because we are seeing an increase in drownings in older adults who are suffering from medical problems," she said.

The agency is also advising people to be familiar with currents in bodies of water and to wear a personal flotation device (PFD) at all times when boating.

"In most boating accidents, they may have the PFD in the boat but they're not wearing it," Wagg said. "Once an accident happens, it's too late then."


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