When I was a kid we were often warned by parents and teachers in the winter months not to be digging tunnels into snowbanks lest they collapse and trap us inside. It was a warning that most of us took seriously, and some 40 years later we really don't hear of very many instances where children have become trapped in snowbanks, and that's a good thing.
We were also frequently warned of the dangers associated with tobogganing. We were told to be aware of our surroundings, to watch for dangers like trees or slick icy spots. As time has ticked along we've seen more and more kids wearing helmets while they enjoy a race down a snowy hill on a toboggan or saucer, and that's a wise choice given the potential for head injuries.
In my lifetime I've seen our society become more aware of the dangers posed by winter activities, and we've taken steps to keep our children safe. So I was a little surprised recently to see what I presume was a family (one adult along with three children) exploring the shelf ice that had formed along our shoreline in the same week that I had been reading news reports of the dangers of that very activity.
Those heaps of snow and ice are certainly beautiful, and I confess that if I were much younger they would be calling out to me for an exploration, but as was noted on social media by South Bruce Peninsula Mayor Janice Jackson a few weeks ago, you're better off admiring their beauty from afar.
“Please stay off the ice at Sauble Beach! Massive Ice Shelves have formed in just a few days and they're incredibly dangerous. Yes the water is shallow underneath however the shelf can be over ten feet high and if you go through, you may not get out. No one will hear you call for help and I would imagine the only way out is to swim underwater out into the lake until you're past it. But with the shelf stretching most of the length of the beach, how would you ever get ashore? These two curious people went right to the edge yesterday likely not knowing the danger. Please stay back and do nothing more than look and be safe!” Mayor Jackson posted along with a photo of two people out on the ice shelves.
Prior to moving to Meaford I hadn't really thought much about the dangers posed by large bodies of water in the winter months. Having lived in Barrie most of my life, where Kempenfelt Bay doesn't see the ice shelf phenomenon, the only real concern was whether the ice was thick enough to support humans or vehicles during ice fishing season. The big waters of Georgian Bay on the other hand pose much greater risks if we aren't wise.
In recent weeks I've read several articles about the dangers posed by ice shelves from a number of Great Lakes communities from South Bruce to Indiana, and all expressed the same concerns – that people simply stay off them and admire them from a distance.
Ice shelves aside, in Meaford we should also be concerned about the rivers in our area, particularly the Big Head. I watched a couple of videos posted online last week showing the impressive and speedy rush of water, ice, trees, and other debris down the Big Head and into the inner harbour. While watching one of the videos the protective parent in me was cringing at how close some folks were to the river bank, and I was even more concerned seeing some innocent – yet potentially deadly – horseplay on a snowbank along the river as trees and ice rushed by. I'm all for horseplay, but standing on a melting snowbank as ice and trees are rushing by is probably not the best place to horse around – one unexpected slip could prove deadly.
We've fortunately not heard any reports of injuries or worse on our waterways this winter, and hopefully we can keep it that way if we all use some common sense and avoid unnecessary risks.
And for all us grown ups, if we need children or teenagers venturing to places like ice shelves or snowbanks alongside a river, we're duty bound to call out a warning. If the warning isn't heeded, it wouldn't be unreasonable to contact emergency services to attend the scene to deal with the situation. You might ruin some youthful fun, but you might very well save a life while you're at it.
Be safe everyone.