I think it first occurred to me when I was on the patio at the Fox Den Lounge, soaking in the late May sunshine with friends. I thought about our summer days, how it seems the sun never sets. I thought about how we crave this weather during the fall and winter months, and how as soon as the weather begins to turn a shade warmer we begin shedding clothing as quickly as possible. I thought about all the things we have here to do during the summer, and then I realized there is one thing we lack, one thing that when I was growing up in Saskatoon was pretty central to those hot summer days. That thing? An outdoor swimming pool.
There is something about an outdoor pool in the summer. I recall how n Saskatoon the outdoor pools were the social scene focus for young adults. I recall all the families that spent time there, often taking advantage of the parks by the pools for Frisbee games and picnics. There was a feeling to those pools, a feel of long and relaxed summer days that you would never forget. There was a sense of community, a feeling of lounging in the summer sun, a memory that carried you through the dark days of winter. There was the anticipation before the pool opened, a day that everyone talked about and wished for. And, at the end of the summer, there was the day the pool closed, a final party before the fall, and a sense of the season turning to fall. It was a part of the prairie life, part of the cycle of life in the community I grew up in. But it isn’t here, because there is no outdoor pool in Fort McMurray.
You know when I first thought about it I thought about the challenges – our short summer season, our cold winters, the expense. And then I rejected those challenges one by one. Our summer season is not so much shorter than that in other northern communities, ones who have outdoor pools. And those communities endure long and cold winters too, and yet they find a way to build their pools to withstand the elements. And the expense? Well yes, there is that, but I think this is a case where the benefits far outweigh the costs – because an outdoor pool is where people gather. It is where community is built, and in this time where we are building community an outdoor pool becomes another opportunity to do that.I have a vision, you see. It’s of an outdoor pool surrounded by a lush green park. The pool echoes with the sounds of laughter, and the splashes of water. There are families, toddler and babies within their parents’ arms. There are young adults just beginning their foray into the world of dating, testing the waters in both a literal and figurative way. There are teens, and young adults, and adults, and seniors, all enjoying the clear blue water under the summer sun. And as the sun goes down and the day fades into evening I hear the sounds of the gathered community drifting away, saying farewells and promising to meet again tomorrow. It sounds, to me, a bit like heaven.
It is easy to reject this idea, to think of the challenges, but this is not a place where the challenges deter us. Perhaps we decide to heat the pool, as some places have done, making it usable even when the temperatures begin to dip, and only close it during the coldest winter days. Perhaps we find an innovative company accustomed to building in far northern countries, and we use their methods and technology. I think what matters, though, is that at this time of growth and change we consider things that might create opportunities for the community to come together in an entirely new way. An outdoor pool is not a novel idea, and not even that brave – but I think it is an idea that should be given some serious thought, because as these beautiful summer days approach wouldn’t it be nice to be planning our days around a picnic, a Frisbee game, and a long sunny hazy day at the pool? I can picture it right now, can’t you?