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Not so tranquil anymore

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I’ve been going to Victoria Beach most of my life, and I’m just a few days shy of my 50th birthday.

I first started going as a kid when my parents rented the old Tucker Inn on Sixth Avenue. They bought their own place a couple of years later in the early 1970s. My wife and I bought our own cottage on Seventh several years ago.

Victoria Beach has always been my place of sanity, a place where I can to relax and re-charge the batteries no matter the season or the weather.

The storm that hit the province last October changed that for me.

The weather bomb that struck the lake caused widespread erosion throughout the south basin of Lake Winnipeg.

Victoria Beach and Grand Beach to the south were hit pretty hard. Damage to a lot of the shoreline is significant. Where there were once gentle, sloping sand beaches there are now raw, exposed cliffs, uprooted trees and destroyed public and private steps.

Many cottagers who own lakefront property saw land in front of their cottages washed away. Some fear if they do not do anything to protect their property, more land will wash away in the next storm. Maybe even a couple of cottages could be lost.

Plans are being put together by some lakefront cottage owners to "armour" the shoreline to protect against the next big storm. Boulders and rocks and gravel would be trucked in, dumped and compacted with heavy machinery.

The lakefront cottage owners say if they’re allowed by the local council to build the rock wall, it will in time enhance the beach and reclaim a lakefront public pathway that’s been disappearing, to erosion, for more than 30 years.

They say they have no intention of standing idly by to watch their property get chewed up by the waves. Some have even threatened legal action against the municipality if they are not allowed to protect their property.

But these lakefront cottage owners are in the minority.

A growing number of cottagers, who do not own lakefront property, say they are against the project. They say there is no guarantee that the rock wall will not forever destroy what once was a sandy beach. They say they have as much right to the beaches as the lakefront cottage owners. They say erosion is the price lakefront cottage owners pay to own a lakefront cottage. They say Mother Nature should decide—nothing else—how to heal the beaches.

To date, this war of words has been waged mostly by email and on Facebook.

The local council has called a public meeting for Jan. 12 at the Fort Garry United Church Hall in Winnipeg to discuss the project. It will be the first real opportunity for cottagers to discuss it face-to-face.

If the tone of some of the Facebook posts and email and phone calls I’ve got is any indication, it’s already clear the damage to Victoria Beach goes beyond its beaches, no matter what is ultimately decided.

There is an ugly side to this, one which has been festering for a long time. What happened on the lake in October finally exposed it.

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About Larry Kusch and Bruce Owen

Larry Kusch has been a journalist for 30 years, the last 20 with the Winnipeg Free Press. His is one of the newspaper's two legislative bureau reporters.

Raised on a Saskatchewan farm, he received an honours journalism degree from Carleton University in 1975.

At the Free Press, Larry has also worked as a general assignment reporter, business reporter, copy editor and assistant city editor.

Bruce Owen joined the Winnipeg Free Press in 1990 after four years working in other media.

He's worked in a number of positions at the Freep, including pet columnist, assistant city editor and police reporter. Right now he takes up space at the Manitoba legislature.

Bruce is one of five reporters who won a National Newspaper Award for the paper’s coverage of the 1997 Flood of the Century. He's also the recipient of the 1996 Volunteer Centre of Winnipeg Media Golden Hand Award and the 1995 Canadian Federation of Humane Societies Media Commendation Award.

In a past life Bruce worked at YMCA-YWCA Camp Stephens. He has a blog where he and others write about camp and the people who worked and played there.

You can also find Bruce on Twitter where he posts and retweets all sorts of stuff.

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