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Oak Bay maintains status quo for dog ban at Willows Beach

Federal government warns district of ‘off-leash’ language online
A summertime ban on dogs is lifted each winter at Willows Beach, allowing pups to play on the beach from Oct. 1 to Apr. 30. (Black Press Media file photo)

Oak Bay scrubbed all references to “leash optional” dog use on Willows Beach from its website after an alert from the federal government.

A handful of residents approached council last month, asking them to revisit the idea of allowing dogs on Willows Beach, in some capacity, from May 1 through Sept. 30. They’re currently banned for that period.

As staff started investigating options to present to council, the district received a letter from Environment and Climate Change Canada, reminding that dogs are not allowed off-leash in Victoria Harbour Migratory Bird Sanctuary at any time. The sanctuary, established in 1923, stretches along the shore from Esquimalt to Ten Mile Point in Saanich.

A map showing the Victoria Harbour Migratory Bird Sanctuary, established in 1923. (Environment and Climate Change Canada)

While the district bylaws are accurate, its website and mapping referenced “leash optional” areas. Those references were removed.

READ ALSO: Off-leash dog harasses baby seal on Vancouver Island beach

That was only a small part of the discussion at the July 12 meeting, as council opted to keep current regulations at the popular beach.

“We’ve received extensive community feedback to maintain the status quo,” Coun. Andrew Appleton said. “I hesitate for us to take an approach in terms of how we would manage birds or what impacts dogs might have on migratory birds.”

The decision split council, with Mayor Kevin Murdoch issuing the tie-breaker.

Couns. Cairine Green, Tara Ney and Eric Zhelka preferred an option that would permit on-leash dogs from 6 a.m. to 9 a.m. May 1 to Sept. 30.

Green, noting there are more than 1,400 licensed dogs in the municipality, saw it as a compromise.

RELATED: Dog owners seek equal access to popular Oak Bay beach

Zhelka, among others, noted the closure of the popular Cedar Hill Corner threw a wrench into the dog park plan for the region.

The University of Victoria closed its undeveloped land commonly known as Cedar Hill Corner in April 2020. While it was never an official use, many took to the grassland as an off-leash dog park.

The 40.33-acre undeveloped parcel at the southeast side of the campus is being used for research, teaching and athletic purposes. To ensure safe access, the area is not open for public use.

While split on the Willows issue, council agreed on the need for more dog parks.

“We have to fast track having an off-leash park for dogs,” Coun. Hazel Braithwaite said, drawing attention to the pup-up off-leash parks Saanich implemented, although those came at a $30,000 cost.

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Christine van Reeuwyk

About the Author: Christine van Reeuwyk

I'm dedicated to serving the community of Oak Bay as a senior journalist with the Greater Victoria news team.
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