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Umbrella loan program helps beach-goers find shade at Westwood

New cover has opened up for shade-seekers at Nanaimo’s Westwood Lake.

Beach-goers are now able to borrow umbrellas at Westwood Lake beach as part of a new initiative being tested by the City of Nanaimo and the Canadian Cancer Society.

The program, which rolled out June 30, is all about encouraging families to be sun smart.

According to the Canadian Cancer Society and the report, Canadian Cancer Statistics 2014, melanoma skin cancer has become one of the fastest-rising cancers in the country, with an estimated 6,500 new cases expected to be diagnosed this year. National surveys also show Canadians are spending more time in the sun without adequate protection.

Damon Johnston, the city’s assistant aquatics manager, says the umbrellas are meant to make it easy for people find shade on a beach that’s sunny almost all day long, as well as ensure people understand the health concerns and causes around skin cancer.

Lifeguards monitor the  program, which currently offers a dozen umbrellas that people can take and return when they no longer need the cover.

“It’s really simple. There’s no exchange of drivers’ licences or anything like that,” Johnston said. “If they are available, people can have access to them ... they can have [the umbrellas] for the whole day if they want.”

So far, the program has been well-received, Johnston said.

“On a day like today when it’s really hot out, almost all the umbrellas are used,” he said.

Nanaimo resident Nancy Ellett was lounging under two of the umbrellas with friend, Paige Foster, Tuesday afternoon as the mercury soared to the high 20s. Ellett said the program is fantastic and would like to see the city offer more chances for people to get in the shade. At one point, all the umbrellas had been loaned out and she had to fight to get a second, she said, chuckling.

Anika Gallacher, who was at the lake with her two children, also likes the idea. She forgot to bring her own umbrella and another beach-goer introduced her to the city’s initiative.

“We put sunscreen on, but the more protection the better,” she said.

This is the first time the city and the cancer society have teamed up to encourage protection against too much sun. There are no plans to expand the initiative to other city beaches.

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