Shortly after the death of a 25-year-old man who was swept into the ocean at Peggys Cove in 2015, an eclectic group came together to discuss how safety could be improved at the landmark in southwest of Halifax.
One idea put forward was to shut down the iconic site which attracts over 700,000 people a year and features a much-photographed lighthouse on a large granite outcrop, with enticing but slippery ‘black rocks’ sloping down to the water’s edge .
The idea was quickly rejected.
“People are still going to venture out to find a way to get to the shore, to the edge of the ocean, to the black rocks beyond the lighthouse to have that experience,” said Mark Furey, a retired Liberal cabinet minister. who was tourism minister at the time and led the security talks.
“That has always been the challenge, and it will remain the challenge for the foreseeable future.”
Although official statistics are not kept, Peggys Cove has been among the sites with the highest number of drownings in Nova Scotia for decades. Four deaths have been reported at Peggys Cove in the past 20 years alone. The latest is in April.
Every time a life is lost, discussions about safety escalate, with people wondering why there can’t be lifebuoys close at hand, fences to keep people away from the rocks near the water, or even lifeguards on site.
“You can’t really do rescues there. That’s the problem,” said Paul D’Eon, director of special projects for the Lifesaving Society of Nova Scotia, who has been involved in various discussions regarding the security in the region.
He explained that in the 1990s, the company conducted studies where highly trained lifeguards threw ring buoys into the water on a medium wave day, only to find that they were quickly swept away from their target.
“I asked them, ‘Would you go in the water?’ The lifeguards said, “No. We’re not even going in there,” D’Eon said. Once a person is in the water, he said, the waves can knock them against rocks, leaving them injured and unable to swim.
The Peggys Cove Patrol program, started in 1995, required rock patrollers to whistle during peak season if visitors approached the water. The program was cut in 2000.
The problem, D’Eon said, is that some people assumed the patrollers were there to save lives, when in fact their role was only to discourage people from walking in dangerous areas.
When Furey led the multi-agency safety initiative in 2015 after the death of Jamie Quattrocchi of Ontario, he discussed fencing with the Peggy’s Cove Commission, the Lifesaving Society of Nova Scotia, the Cross- Red, the families of those who died at the site, responders first, local residents and fishermen with boats, who are usually the first on the scene.
The local community was “offended” by the idea of a fence, he said, as were other Nova Scotians.
“The discussions and comments I’d heard in the past were the optics of a fence on such a pristine piece of land, an iconic piece of land with a lighthouse, and just all of those elements of that space,” he said. declared.
Besides the visual component, Furey said a challenge would be finding two endpoints.
“So where does the fence end? That’s the first question when you consider the bedrock, granite landscape,” Furey said. The other question was how high would the fence be?
Even if there were fences, how would it work?
Alison Mark, a Halifax-based mechanical engineer specializing in materials science, said a fence at Peggys Cove would be possible, but it would be a difficult and expensive undertaking requiring a careful design process.
“It wouldn’t be as simple as just digging a hole and putting a concrete foundation in most cases, I think,” Mark said.
She said the high-corrosion environment — with salt water, wind and waves — would likely require specialized material that is likely more expensive than typical fencing. The rocks would also have to be prepared as a suitable foundation, which would require drilling and possibly blasting.
The property line in and around Peggys Cove is blurred. With the federal government owning the lighthouse, the provincial government responsible for the area around it, and residents of the community’s private lands, enforcing safety becomes a challenge.
After Quattrocchi’s death in 2015, the province installed additional signs warning of “sudden high waves”, the risk of drowning and urging people to stay away from black rocks.
He launched the Safe On Shore campaign in 2016, promoting coastal safety throughout Nova Scotia, particularly at Peggys Cove. The campaign included print media, a website and social media posts.
In addition to more than 40 safety signs at Peggys Cove, Nova Scotia is adding three more. The province said new signs warning of the danger of black rocks and wave action are currently being produced and will be installed as soon as possible.
A viewing platform that lights up at night was installed last year. It offers picturesque views of the lighthouse from a safe distance and is part of Crown Corporation Develop Nova Scotia’s master plan to make Peggys Cove safer. The project cost the provincial and federal governments $3.1 million.
But in early April, two brothers slipped on the rocks and fell into the water, one of whom, Harshil Barot, lost his life. Her brother, Zarin Barot, said the two did not see the signs in the dark.
John Campbell, the owner of restaurant and gift shop Sou’Wester in Peggys Cove, has seen his fair share of accidents while living in the community since 1967.
“A lot of times someone slips on the rocks, we’re the first call,” Campbell said.
In the summer, he said there are times when people go swimming at low tide and come out unscathed, but accidents, where visitors slip on a rock and fall into the water, happen more than 10 times. per year.
He said accidents often happen when a person is hit by a rogue wave two to three times higher than an average wave.
“Sometimes you don’t just need to be on black rocks,” Campbell said. “But how do you control that moving line? Because that line is moving. Like in a hurricane, you shouldn’t be on the rocks at all.”
He said many times when talking about safety at Peggys Cove that it comes down to signage. There will be only one to put up the signs, but a few years later some have disappeared, either hit by a wave or stolen.
For him, each time there is a death, there is a feeling of helplessness.
Campbell used his boat to rescue Zarin from the water. Later he met the Barot family, who traveled from India to Nova Scotia after Harshil’s death.
“It was just such sadness, and I hate, hate, hate reading people with bad comments. The way I look at it is, at least in my life, I know I’ve used bad judgment before I’m sure most people exercised poor judgment and we don’t expect to lose their lives,” Campbell said.