Can You Actually Own a Beach of Your Own in Vancouver?

"Think of all you could do with more sand in your life—like finally open that hourglass start-up."

March 19, 2018

By Stacey McLachlan / Photo: Byron Eggenschwiler

Some Vancouverites romanticize the notion of a private beach. I personally don’t get it. The sun and surf are a small part of the beach experience: the real fun comes from people-watching, having strangers come up to tell you that your sunburn is weeping and urging you to seek medical attention, and kicking sand at nerds. What would one even do with a beach designated for just you and your family? You can only bury your husband in the sand so many times before he says, “Wha—? What are you doing?! How did I get down to the beach? I’ve asked you to stop doing this, it’s the middle of the night and you’re freaking me out. I want a divorce.”

But maybe you’re a fun Howard Hughes–type character and just want a patch of sand to call your own. (If it’s fulfilling some sort of human litter box fantasy, I do not want to know.) Well, I have bad news: this isn’t going to happen.


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You can buy beachfront property, but you only own up to the “foreshore,” which is Latin for “the ocean’s forehead.” That means your property goes just to the high water mark, and you must permit access across the publicly owned land below. You could put up a fence, but only in the same way you could claim your gluten-free muffin tastes as good as the real thing: no one will listen.

Of course, as an oceanfront home-owner, you have rights as well, specifically something called riparian rights. They entitle you to the right of access (nobody can stop you from accessing your land from the water, except the freakishly strong merpeople who, as we all know, live in English Bay); the right to protect your property from erosion (finally, a positive reason to chant “Build a wall!”); and, most excitingly, the right to acquire land. That’s right: with the tide, sand sometimes builds up in front of your property over time! Think of all you could do with more sand in your life—like finally open that hourglass start-up or build some housing that’s actually affordable.

In fact, there are a few private beaches out there, even if you can’t buy one today: at one point in time, B.C. did assign ownership rights to ocean beds, so you’re grandfathered in if you have an old enough survey plan. Or, if you happen to own oceanfront property tucked between rock outcroppings, it’s private due to lack of public access. That is, until the merpeople finally learn to walk. And when that day comes, you’ll have bigger things to worry about than privacy—hide your children in your sandcastle’s panic room and hope for mercy at their webbed, vengeful hands.

Got a question for City Informer?
stacey.mclachlan@vanmag.com

 

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