Westboro Beach has been a swim site for over 100 years, although never as popular as Britannia Beach. The first formal recognition of the site being used for swimming occurred in the 1910 Clarella subdivision plan which designated three small parcels of land for public swimming. In1926, the Westboro Board of Trade supported public swimming at the beach, although the land was privately owned.
The following 1931 photo shows the natural beauty of the area with a hillside covered in mature deciduous trees with the tall magistic elm the most prominent. The beauty of this area is captured in the picture of Graham and Gerry MacNay’s home on the Ottawa Improvement Commission Driveway in the early 50s (site #1) – the river can be seen through the trees to the right of the house. The building was moved back to its present location (site #4) at 267 Kirchoffer Ave in 1959 – two doors from the corner of Lanark and Kirchoffer. It is the only house that still exists from the early days at the beach area.
In 1940 the beach was purchased by Sam Ford who started charging fees. The Fords had lived at the beach for almost 20 years (site #3) and also ran the Trocadero Dance Hall (site #2) which was located at the southeast corner of the present beach (on the Parkway on the east side of the underpass). Nepean Township, in the late ’40s, urged Ford to waive the fees for children if they arrived in their swimsuits and had no need for change-rooms but was turned down. (from Bruce S. Elliott, The City Beyond, page 241)
To provide an alternative, the township and Westboro village worked together in the ’40s to open up public access to the beach from the end of Imperial Avenue although the beach was still owned by Ford. In 1947, the Federal District Commission (FDC) began expropriating land along the river. When Ford was expropriated in 1949, Nepean Council instructed the Nepean Playgrounds Committee to seek Ford’s permission and then applied to the FDC for public use of the beach under municipal supervison. When Westboro became part of Ottawa in 1950 the beach became part of the City’s aquatic program.
In 1965, the City of Ottawa negotiated a purchase of the beach area from the NCC for $1.00 and on January 6, 1966, City Council approved a $67,000 expenditure for the construction of the current change and washrooms and by late June the rocky shoreline had been transformed into a sandy beach, in time for its official opening as a public facility. Supervised lifeguarding and learn-to-swim programs became the summer routine at the beach.
The construction of the recreational pathways in the late 1960s and the Sunday closings of the Parkway for cycling made the beach a popular place to visit for reasons other than swimming. Also, by the late ’70s commercial logging no longer existed on the river and some local residents began to envision the beach becoming an access point for paddlers.
In 1979-80 the City did a comprehensive study of the whole Westboro area and one of the recommendations was to make better recreational use of the river. Consequently, 15 years after the beach facility was built it was renovated to include a patio and kitchen for the opening of a small summer cafe.
In 1981, the City gave some start-up funding for the setting up of a non-profit community development corporation called Westcom and one its first projects was to renovate the facility and set up a variety of recreational activities such as: canoe rentals, a children’s boat camp, a cafe, sing alongs, backgammon competitions, flower gardens for aesthetic enjoyment, a winter heated change trailer, skating and toboganning.
For two summers Westboro Beach thrived and Westcom then chose to move on to other ventures and left the beach in the hands of the newly formed Dovercourt Recreation Centre. Lack of community support and reduced funding eventually resulted in Dovercourt leaving the beach and by the ’90s the City of Ottawa Recreation Department carried on, on their own.
By the late 1990′s the beach facilities were in bad need of repair and pressures on reducing the municipal budget almost resulted in the ending of the City’s aquatic program. Community pressure to retain the aquatic program also stimulated renewed community interest in rehabilitating the whole beach area.
As a result, in 1998 the Westboro Beach Community Association took responsibility to organize a beach committee to lead beach renovations. A partnership was struck between the City, Newport Restaurant, Dovercourt with some support from the local outdoor stores and the result has seen a rebirth of a century old beach.