WASAGA BEACH–While only memories remain of the historic Wasaga Beach street mall gutted by last year's fire, for 8-year-old Joshua Molyneux from Erin, Ont., and his 6-year-old brother Benjamin, the main attraction is still intact.
Sand – soft and white, reaching seemingly endlessly along what is the world's longest freshwater beach.
"It's great," says Joshua as he dives into the sand to catch the bright red football that his brother has just kicked to him during a visit after the May long weekend.
That's a message that Mayor Cal Patterson has been working tirelessly to get out since Dec. 1 when a massive blaze tore though the historic tourist area destroying 21 buildings.
"Yes, we lost some history and some nostalgia, but first and foremost people come here for the beach," says Patterson.
On average, Wasaga Beach attracts more than two million visitors a year and Patterson is confident that new attractions slated to open later this month will be a bigger magnet for families than the outdated pedestrian mall lost in the fire.
"It will raise the bar significantly on what we have to offer, so we're very optimistic," says Patterson.
The new attractions will include a free, interactive water play area with water tunnels and jets that will shoot nearly six metres into the air and a dome with seating for more than 1,000 offering three performances a week by Toronto-based Zero Gravity Circus. There will also be a 2,520-square-metre tent-like structure that will house interactive games, concessions, a rock climbing wall and basketball courts.
In addition, there will be more parking and new and renovated retail stores and new restaurants that will complement popular destinations such as the Bananas Beach Club and the completely retrofitted Dardanella and Copa Cabana restaurants.
The concept includes parking lots that can be converted into basketball, tennis and soccer courts and a concert venue with temporary tiered seating.
Patterson points out that the fire was contained to a very small area of the town, which stretches for 16 kilometres.
Less than six months after the fire there is little left to indicate that the pedestrian mall ever existed.
In late May, just eight working days after developer Blue Beach Avenue Corporation received the initial go-ahead from the town, the burned-out buildings had been removed from the site, landscaping was in place and the finishing touches were being put to an interlocking brick walkway across what had been the pedestrian mall. Meanwhile, a few hundred metres up the beach, work had begun on the water play area.
"You have to see how fast we move to believe it," says site general Roger Beaubien.
All of this is good news, says Joshua and Benjamin's dad, Ian Molyneux.
"It sounds great so maybe we'll come back again when it's all open," says Molyneux.
That's exactly what Patterson is hoping.
"We get a lot of day trippers so we are hoping that now we will be able to attract a lot of families who will stay with us for more than a day or so," he says.
For more information, go to Wasaga Beach News