By Charlie Senack
With events cancelled again this summer due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Westboro Beach Community Association (WBCA) has turned their efforts to beautifying the neighbourhood.
The association says they were hopeful their annual beach reopening party would take place this May after being cancelled last year, but the pandemic had other plans.
Now, with more people venturing to parks across the city, the focus has shifted to keeping the beach clean and safe.
In an effort to add some more colour to the beach, a cement wall near the former CBC pathway will be painted this summer by two local youth.
The WBCA initially applied for a “Paint it up murals” Crime Prevention Ottawa grant, which helps youth in the city find employment through art. Unfortunately, the association was not chosen, but was still encouraged to go ahead with the proposal.
Betty-Lou Twolan, who is new to the Westboro Beach neighbourhood and has recently joined the association, had decided to spearhead the project which should begin at the end of June.
“The wall is pretty bleak-looking, and art adds a splash of something to a community,” she said. “There’s a lot of concrete in that area going down to Westboro Station, and that wall has a lovely walking path beside it.”
Even though they did not receive the grant, Twolan said they wanted to find another way to fund the project. Multiple fundraisers took place, and now they are only about $800 short of their $4,300 goal.
Much like the mission statement of the initial grant, the association decided to keep the focus on supporting youth in the community.
“Children and youth are struggling to find work. If you can help the young kids in the community, that helps them in the future,” said Twolan. “Youth [are] important and it’s important to capture their perspective.”
The WBCA reached out to Frederick Banting Alternative High School in Stittsville, which has a strong focus on helping youth find skills to help them with employment after graduating. Two youth artists, 16-year-olds Naylissah Aristide and Kiara Whitney, will be painting the mural, in a project which is expected to take two months and will wrap up at the end of August.
“We are very excited about this,” stated Twolan. “The whole objective behind this is to have a safe space for everyone.”
With more people flocking to Westboro Beach since the pandemic hit, the community association wants to ensure the space stays clean.
Work on the pollinator garden is continuing this summer to welcome and encourage bees on the beach. Royal Woods, as they call it, is also making efforts to regenerate the forest and bring it back to its former roots.
“We want more urban forests in our city to contradict all the intensification that is happening in Ottawa and around Kitchissippi,” said Mari Wellman, WBCA president. “During the pandemic, I think we have all found out how important nature really is.”
The group is also working on organizing a beach cleanup later this summer once restrictions ease. Last summer, Ottawa Public Health said Westboro Beach flew the red flag with “no swim” advisories for about one third of the season due to high bacteria levels in the water.
“One of the things we want to do is clean up Westboro Beach waters, because last year we had multiple no-swim days,” said Wellman. “We are in the middle of contacting River Keepers, who have a program where they have mussels float in the water and they clean the water.”
While events seem to be out of the question for this summer, the WBCA hopes they can close the season out on a high note with their annual “closing of the beach” party.
It’s a day where neighbours can get together, said Wellman, for one final moment to make summer memories and enjoy the cool fall weather.
“It’s very popular — it’s not a big fundraiser, but more of a social gathering,” she said. “We have a lantern maze where we make lanterns and light up the beach, but what everyone comes for is the [bonfire]. We roast marshmallows [and] have hot chocolate and homemade cookies. This year, we might expand that and sell food, since fundraising has been difficult during the pandemic.”
But a few fundraisers have taken place, including at Christmas when a drive-by food drive was held for the Westboro Region Food Bank. Santa Claus rode on a truck with a small group of physically distant elves following on the street.
More recently, a virtual fundraiser was held with “Early days of Westboro” book author Bob Grainger, who gave a talk on the early days of the beach. Wellman said the fundraiser was successful and raised quite a bit of money.
Work also continues to support the community kitchen, which helps provide meals to less fortunate members of the community. Prior to the pandemic, dinners were held in person, providing an opportunity to gather as a community and make new friends. Due to COVID-19 restrictions, meals are now dropped off to the clients’ houses.
“A large contingent of people in our intermediate area — I think about 600 or so — are dealing with food contingencies,” said Wellman. “A warm homemade meal is important for them because it makes them feel valued and helps them out. They are very appreciative.”
In early May, Gabriel Pizza donated nine individually prepared pizzas for homeless families living at the Richmond Plaza motel. In total, 16 pizzas were delivered. The Carlington Community Health Centre and the Westboro Beach Community Kitchen have helped organize deliveries of meals during the lockdown while the kitchen at the Van Lang Field house is closed. On May 22 alone, 109 meals were delivered to individuals and families who live in the Westboro neighbourhood.
To learn more, visit westborobeach.ca.