Sandbanks Provincial Park

This article was originally published in the 2020 Spring issue of Invest In Style Magazine.

The article below was published prior to the COVID-19 Pandemic. In accordance with provincial recommendations, Chestnut Park is following strict guidelines to ensure the safety of our clients, agents, employees, and the community. Subject to these restrictions, Chestnut Park agents and brokers are and will continue to be available for your current and future real estate needs.

It’s not as if Prince Edward County is otherwise unremarkable – with its picturesque vineyards, charming villages and towns with historic architecture, and roadside farms selling fresh produce – but Sandbanks Provincial Park is a truly special place.

Sandbanks Provincial Park boasts what is almost certainly the finest beach anywhere on Lake Ontario, with kilometres of clear, shallow water and spectacular dunes that are unique in the province.

But the beauty we appreciate today was largely the result of tragic mismanagement of the land in the 19th century, according to John Brebner, a member of Friends of Sandbanks Provincial Park. “The early settlers cleared the area of white pine for ships’ masts, and cedar for construction and fencing. During the socalled Barley Days, when every piece of land was transformed into barley fields for American beer makers, farmers finished off the clearing of the dunes by allowing cows to graze there. The resulting removal of all the vegetation allowed the sand to start drifting, and drift it did, covering houses, lodges and farmers’ fields,” says Brebner.

Starting in 1922, the government began earnest conservation efforts to stabilize the dunes and restore a healthy ecosystem, mostly through large-scale tree planting. The effort was a success, paving the way for a provincial park that’s every bit as busy as Wasaga Beach on hot summer weekends.

Sandbanks has three spectacular beaches of golden sand – Outlet Beach, Sandbanks Beach and Dunes Beach – each one more inviting than the last for lazing on a blanket, building sandcastles and playing in the water. Outlet and Sandbanks beaches are especially ideal for young ones as the water is shallow before it gently drops off. Kayaks and canoes are available to rent for those who want something a bit more adventurous. However you choose to enjoy it, the water is sparkling clean and refreshingly cool.

Beyond the beaches, Sandbanks Provincial Park has much to commend it. Explore any of a number of hiking trails, including the new Lakeview Trail that traces a rocky point that juts out into Lake Ontario, and the interpretive Cedar Sands Nature Trail, a two-kilometre loop along the shores of the Outlet River with two lookouts providing scenic views of the marsh.

The most popular is Sandbanks Dunes Trail, a 2.5 km loop around a unique and fragile dune habitat and along the edge of several pannes, rare wetlands that supports wildlife and unusual flora.

While exploring at West Point you might stumble upon foundations, weathered tennis and shuffleboard courts, and the remains of a dance floor. These historic relics remind us of one of the more fascinating, yet little-known aspects of Sandbanks Provincial Park: the rich history of Lakeshore Lodge.

Built as a rustic hotel for summer tourists around 1870, by the 1890s Lakeshore Lodge had grown into an elegant three-storey structure with a recreational hall, dance pavilion, swimming pool, and tennis and shuffleboard courts. It was considered the height of vacationing in Ontario. Sadly, it later became derelict and burned to the ground in 1983. But you can relive the golden age of the resort during Lakeshore Lodge Days (July 22 and Aug 12, 2020, 12-4 pm), an interactive event hosted by Friends of Sandbanks Provincial Park.

Sandbanks hosts other special events including noncompetitive sandcastle building at Sandfest (July 15, 2020) and Sandbanks Music Festival (Sept. 12, 2020, 1- 10pm) at the Park Amphitheatre. Throughout the summer, park staff offer a variety of fun, interactive educational programs including children’s activities, guided hikes led by Park Naturalists, evening campfires with slide shows, and more.

An iconic stretch of Prince Edward County shoreline, the striking, golden dunes and sandy beaches at Sandbanks Provincial Park have been a symbol of summer recreation for more than a century.