Come on in, the water’s fine!
That’s the message sent by the Sunday event The Big Jump, which attracted dozens of eager participants for an urban swim in Halifax harbour, just off of Bishop’s Landing. In an enclosed area normally frequented by pleasure craft, adult swimmers and kids on inflatable devices shaped like unicorns, pizza slices and — perhaps without irony, in this case — the poop emoji, paddled around under sunny skies and in 24-degree temperatures.
It wasn’t that long ago that swimming in the harbour would have been unthinkable, and even with the Harbour Solutions sewage treatment plant coming online in 2008, there have been patches of rough sailing to get to where we are now, with plant failures and sewage leaks occurring along the way.
Anika Riopel is one of the water enthusiasts whose research helped convince Develop Nova Scotia, formerly the province’s Waterfront Development Corporation, that a public swim off a Halifax pier was a fresh new use for the area.
Coming out of the water, after her first plunge off the floating dock, Riopel said Halifax harbour is a different body of water than it was a decade ago.
“Looking at the data and the stats of how much the water treatment plants have made a difference in the quality of the water, it’s time to change our perception of the harbour,” she said.
“The water being clean opens up a lot of opportunities, and swimming is one of them. It gives us a chance to reconnect with nature that’s right on our doorstep and really enjoy Canada’s ocean playground.”
Riopel feels it would be easy to make the space accessible to all with ramps, ladders, and proper supervision, and she hopes the success of Sunday’s pilot project means something more permanent could be established next year.
Watching the fun from dockside, Deborah Page from Develop Nova Scotia also thinks The Big Jump could be the start of a new use for the waterfront, although probably not at Bishop’s Landing, which is normally reserved for recreational boaters and not suitable for regular swimming while it serves that purpose.
“We’re always looking for new ways for folks to enjoy the waterfront, so we took a look at what’s possible,” said Page, who notes a permanent space would have to be separate from high traffic areas for boating.
“We’re looking at doing more events like this, now and again when we can, and seeing whether there’s interest.
“As we move forward with some of our development around public space, we’ll look at if there’s a place where we can have some permanent infrastructure that allows us to do this in a safe way, on a regular basis.”
One of Sunday’s swimmers, Isaac Greenberg, remembered hearing how people used to swim in the harbour and the Northwest Arm, before the city’s sewage disposal methods made that a thing of the past.
“I grew up here, and it was always a kind of gross place to be, it smelled weird and the water wasn’t very nice, but now it’s completely different. I’ve done a complete 180 on it.
“We always talk about green spaces as something that people need to have access to, but it’s kinda nice to have a little access to some blue space as well.”