Should the city fine trespassers at Albion Falls?
Council looking at ways to stop hikers
Councillors will talk about the prospect of ticketing trespassers at Albion Falls — and someday, building stairs to the bottom — to help prevent falling deaths at the popular cataract.
Parks manager Kara Bunn will update the public works committee Thursday on new safety measures, like top-of-gorge fencing, added since a Toronto photographer lost his footing and plunged to his death at the east Mountain waterfall last month.
Ward 6 Coun. Tom Jackson said he plans to ask fellow councillors to endorse city fines for trespassing beyond those new barriers. “I would very much like to give both police officers and municipal bylaw officers the ability to hand out tickets,” he said.
Jackson said Hamilton police have recently sent undercover officers to Albion Falls, at the city’s request, to keep an eye out for determined visitors ripping down temporary safety barriers.
But visible, enforceable municipal trespassing rules would give those officers an additional “tool to stem the tide of incidents,” he said.
The Mountain councillor also said he intends to research funding opportunities for construction of stairs to a safe viewing platform at the bottom of the falls. “Despite our current challenges, I haven’t given up on that idea,” he said.
David Rees hopes councillors focus on building safer paths, “not fences and fines.”
“The trail (to the bottom) is not unsafe. I’m 59, both my knees are shot, but I can do it, no problem,” said Rees, a photographer who has participated in popular Albion Falls “illumination” nights that attract dozens of people to the base of the cataract at night.
“We have never had a problem. The problem is people trying to climb the (gorge) walls, or touch the falls, or dangle their feet off the edge.”
Simply fining anyone who tries to reach the base of the falls would be “hugely unfair” — and probably won’t help, he suggested. “The best place to photograph a water- fall is from the bottom. People are not going to stop going there,” he said.
There is precedent for ticketing trespassers, however. The City of Toronto installed orange “No Trespassing” signs along the edge of the popular — and landslideprone — Scarborough Bluffs. The signs cite a municipal code that governs access to public parks and warn of a maximum $5,000 fine.
That didn’t stop a pair of 20something siblings from crossing a safety barrier and getting stuck July 9. Toronto Police tweeted the brother and sister were rescued — and then charged under the city’s bylaw.
Neither Toronto police nor the city could say Wednesday how often such charges are laid. But Toronto Fire tweeted the July 9 rescue was the seventh at the bluffs this year.
Firefighters have responded to Albion Falls six times this year for falls or stuck hikers. Other rescues this summer have come at Webster Falls, the Devil’s Punch Bowl and most recently Wednesday at Chedoke Falls. Total rescue calls spiked to 29 in 2016, a fiveyear high.
Workers were expected to finish installing two-metre-tall chainlink fencing around the top of Albion Falls Wednesday, including a section blocking access to an old set of concrete steps used by visitors seeking a route to the bottom of the east Mountain falls.
(Another promontory further along the gorge, dubbed Lover’s Leap based on a 19th century legend about a heartbroken young woman who jumped to her death, will also be fenced in future.)
Bunn said the city is also installing new “visual explainer” signs meant to ensure all visitors understand the risks of walking to the brink of a 20-metre-high gorge.
Firefighters were called to the bottom of Chedoke Falls Wednesday afternoon for a potential rope rescue after two members of a group of four teenagers had reportedly become stuck in the area of the falls. Firefighters were able to walk them safely out of the area without the need for a rope rescue.