City reminds public no swimming allowed at Britannia Beach, Prince of Wales Bridge

The City of Ottawa is reminding residents to not swim at two sites where people drowned this past weekend. 

Both sites saw drownings over weekend

Police continue to investigate the disappearance of a 14-year-old boy who jumped off the Prince of Wales bridge on Friday evening while swimming. (Boris Proulx/Radio-Canada )

The City of Ottawa is reminding residents to not swim at two sites where people drowned this past weekend. 

Police continue to investigate the drowning of a 14-year-old boy who jumped off the Prince of Wales Bridge on Friday while swimming.

"The City of Ottawa continues to take action to prevent trespassing at the Prince of Wales Bridge," wrote Kevin Wylie, general manager of the city's public works and environmental services department in an emailed statement. 

"Structures in place to prevent trespassing and protect public safety include signage, chains and fencing. In addition, city staff do daily patrols of the bridge, conduct regular inspections and ensure any repairs are completed promptly." 

According to the Ottawa Police Service, holes are often made in the fencing, allowing people to access the blocked-off, out-of-use bridge.

A sign at Britannia Beach on July 5, 2020, warns people that the beach is unsupervised and swimming is currently not permitted. A 20-year-old man drowned the night before while swimming there. (Natalia Goodwin/CBC)

In response to mounting safety concerns about ongoing illegal use of the bridge, Transport Canada wrote to the cities of Ottawa and Gatineau in December 2015, asking them to "permanently barricade the bridge to stop trespassers." 

The federal agency says the Prince of Wales Bridge doesn't carry trains and, as such, is no longer under its purview. 

"Transport Canada has met previously with the City of Ottawa and discussed the issue of trespassing and its responsibilities under the Railway Safety Act," the agency wrote in an emailed statement on Tuesday. 

"The city has installed barriers designed to prevent trespasser access to the bridge."

Metal plates had recently been installed at the south and north entrances, the city said, and after the drowning, city crews mended holes in the fence.

In 2019, before the global pandemic dominated headlines, the mayors of Ottawa and Gatineau said they'd ask the federal government to help them turn it into a cycling connection.

"I believe the solution to avoiding tragedies like this in the future is to speed up work to turn the bridge into something for pedestrians and cyclists," Coun. Jeff Leiper told Radio-Canada in French.

No lifeguards at Britannia Beach

The bridge isn't the only place where the city hopes to dissuade people from swimming.

Construction fencing is going up at Britannia Beach. The city plans to dredge sand to make the swimming area deeper and cleaner. 

Three of Ottawa's four municipal beaches officially reopened in late June, but Britannia Beach will be off-limits until 2021.

On Saturday, a 20-year-old man died after he went into the water and failed to resurface.

His body was found early Sunday morning.

"Britannia Beach is not supervised by lifeguards …  Red flags are currently flying and signs have been posted to advise against swimming," reads an emailed statement from Dan Chenier, general manager for the city's recreation, cultural and facility services.

City must provide more safe swimming locations along Ottawa River, councillor says

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Coun. Jeff Leiper says residents could be discouraged from using the Prince of Wales bridge to swim in the Ottawa River if the city provided more established swimming locations.

Swimmers won't have access to the beach while the dredging work is underway, although the public can still access its picnic area, pier, beach pavilion and pathways. 

"The beach is closed," Coun. Mathieu Fleury told Radio-Canada. "Please go to other city beaches that are supervised."

The Rideau-Vanier ward councillor said he expects people will realize the beach is closed as construction continues. 

With files from Radio-Canada

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