BONNYVILLE - The MD of Bonnyville took the opportunity Aug. 27 to showcase the work it has undertaken at Vezeau Beach since it assumed ownership and operation of the park in 2019. A grand opening celebration of the renewal project was held with Reeve Greg Sawchuk recognizing the original development of the area by a group of community volunteers who had the vision to create the park along the shore of Moose Lake.
“Clermont Roy had the initial dream and saw this place as a potential to have a park as an entry point to the town of Bonnyville. Something that could be beautiful in the future and would welcome people as they came around the corner. The vision was put together by a board and they kind of ran with and for a long time they were the ones who ran this park and built it up,” Sawchuk acknowledged.
That group was the Lakeland Sports and Recreation Association and its chairman, Guy Demers, was on hand to provide those in attendance with a brief history of the original development of the park that began in 1998.
Demers credited Clermont Roy for bringing the park concept to others in the community when Clermont’s brother Valere announced he was selling some land on the lakeshore. Things started to happen very quickly after that with the formation of the association and a $150,000 donation from Esso which allowed the group to purchase the property. They also took over the leases on adjacent land, including the campground area, and began by developing an RV park as a revenue generator to fund further enhancements. Many local businesses stepped in with funding support to take the concept from blueprint to reality.
“It started snowballing and the next thing we knew we had quite a bit of money,” he said. After some negotiating with the Town and MD, both municipalities contributed some work in kind to get the development moving.
“In the fall of 2000 we broke ground. We moved from one project to another, doing it in phases,” Demers told Lakeland This Week.
“It was a lot of work. We spent 20 years developing this park. If we needed extra money, we put it in. Some people though we were making a fortune on this park. We would have made a fortune if we were allowed to sell it, but we weren’t allowed to sell it,” he said, adding that was never on the table and there was an exit agreement with the MD and Town with the building of the Shaw House, which houses the tourist information centre and is also home to the Bonnyville and District Chamber of Commerce.
Through the years, the park’s use has increased as a recreational venue and an important welcoming entrance leading into Bonnvyille.
The Canadian flag that flies above Vezeau Beach has also become a landmark for the area over the years, which is exactly what the association was hoping for, Demers said. At 150 sq. ft, it is the “second largest” in the country, he claimed, and he’s spent a great deal of time over the years tending to it.
“I was the flag man for years. I would lower it and fix it. We used to get a lot of flak if it was ripped.”
At $1,500 a flag, Demers said that is just one example of the costs associated with operating the park area over the years. The boat launch is in need of replacement and together with the other upgrades that needed doing, Demers said it just made sense to reach an agreement with the MD to take it over.
“We were very happy to give it to the MD. They’ve done a great job of fixing it up, it’s never looked better.”
Replacing the boat launch remains a priority but while it may have taken the original group only seven weeks to get the go ahead 20 years ago, today it’s taking a lot longer to get the government approval required.
“Back in the day it was seven weeks to get a permit, it’s beyond 18 months or something on this one to get a permit for a boat launch – the timing of red tape reduction, it doesn’t actually hold true,” Sawchuk said. “Hopefully, one day we get those approvals, and we can get to work on that.”
He said it is important to recognize that support for projects such as the upgrades to Vezeau Beach is made possible through the MD’s industrial tax base.
“We are probably up over 90 per cent of our revenue coming from those big companies. It allows us to do things like this and grow our area. I’ve heard it from the operations managers and those folks at the big oil companies that they love it when we put money back into making their community better.”
Sawchuk is in favour of seeing the park eventually connected to the town with an extension of the trail system.
“We do still have to get that connection going into the Town so people can bike right into town. Once that is done it is going to be an amazing area for people to come to and enjoy.”
Work undertaken by the MD since assuming operation of Vezeau Beach include includes upgrades to the access road and parking lot, a new trail system, upgrades to the sewer system in the campground, improvements to the playground area and, most recently, the establishment of a rain garden behind Shaw House in partnership with Lakeland Industry and Community Association.