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It's been a long time since Frame Lake's McNiven Beach has looked like this. This picture was taken in 1967, long before weeds and bushes took over, and the dock and lifeguard's chair were removed. - NWT Prince Of Wales Cultural Centre Archives/Ted Grant photo

McNiven Beach makes waves
Residents pine for return of Frame Lake's former glory

Cody Punter
Northern News Services
Published Wednesday, July 10, 2013

When Carrie Young read a recent edition of Tales from The Dump in Yellowknifer, she couldn't help but be inspired by columnist Walt Humphries' lament on the decline of the once popular McNiven Beach.

After reading the article, Young, who lives right beside Frame Lake in Northland Trailer Park, decided she was going to heed Humphries' advice and "take back the beach."

"I just want more people to come here and have the stigma removed, because it's not true," said Young about rumours that Frame Lake is polluted.

She extended an open invitation to families across Yellowknife to join her family for a swim at the beach on Canada Day.

Around a dozen people showed up to swim throughout the day, including city councillor Rebecca Alty and her mother, Vivian Hansen. Alty said she has fond memories of swimming at the beach as a child.

"My babysitters used to bring me here all the time," said Alty, who remembers when the beach used to be free of grass and covered in sand.

"It's a nice beach and it's really good for people who don't have cars."

In preparation for the Canada Day event, Young's husband, Marc Winkler, waded into the lake wearing a snorkel to collect any hazardous material that might be under the water. They were surprised at how little garbage they found, although they did fill three-quarters of a garbage bag with old dog toys, one broken bottle and a few rusty pipes.

Although Humphries gave her the push she needed to raise awareness about the beach, Young said she started swimming there a few years ago. On most sunny weekends during the summer, she can be found enjoying a picnic at Frame Lake with her husband and her two daughters, Penny and Alice.

Before taking the plunge, Winkler spoke with a health officer at the Department of Health and Social Services to ask if there was anything wrong with the water. The health officer told him the lake water had only been tested for arsenic, and the levels were deemed safe. Winkler was also told the department had no reason to believe it should test for any other chemicals or bacteria.

Duane Fleming, chief environmental health officer, said no bacteriological tests had been done on the lake. However, he said there is no reason to believe the water was unsafe for swimming.

Young pointed out that fresh water shrimp and baby clams can be found at the edge of the water.

"Molluscs are a sign that the water is healthy," she said.

Even if the lake is not polluted, some people are still turned off by the idea of swimming in water that contains leeches. Young pulled out a couple of larger ones they found at the edge of the water and showed them to some of the children to prove that they were nothing to worry about.

"There are leeches here, but there are leeches in every lake," said Alty.

Drew Williams came by the beach to check out the event. He said he moved to Yellowknife in 1980, just after McNiven Beach began to decline. Although he never saw the beach in its prime, he remembers hearing stories of floatplanes landing amid throngs of swimmers.

"It was a social gathering spot. It was where all the families went with their kids and where all the teenagers went to hang out," said Williams.

Young maintains the beach should once again become a celebrated public beach and hopes her event will help draw positive attention to the beach.

"Who doesn't want a beach that's walking distance from their house?"

Alty could not say if there was a chance the city could make some improvements at the beach in the near future. However, her advice to anyone who wants to use the beach is, "if people want to go for a swim, they should do it."

Young added it would be a shame to see such a wonderful resource go to waste, especially considering whom the beach is named after.

"After all it is called McNiven Beach."

Jock McNiven was the first mayor of Yellowknife, the first appointed member of the legislative assembly of the NWT who resided in the NWT, and a legendary prospector, mine engineer and mine manager.

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