Between a brook and a hard place

Russell Wangersky
Published on August 1, 2014

In Western Bay, above Carbonear, there’s a swimming hole called The Overfalls. It’s not easy to find it — until you do. There’s a small sign on a side road and a steep trail down into a bowl below a cliff, right at a spot where Western Bay Brook shoots along a course through quartz-shot stone and down into a deep pool. 

Sometimes, when the water’s really high, a larger falls forms right over the centre of the pool and you can climb in behind it, a curtain of white water out in front of you like a partially opaque shower curtain, the roar of the water all around you as the cold spray spatters on your skin.

Throughout the summer, it’s full of people — kids and their parents, knots of teens. I once watched a man in his 50s, in jeans, a white dress shirt and black shoes, walk to the edge of the cliff and jump, disappearing into the pool below. He surfaced, pulled himself to shore and then walked, streaming with water, up the path and out of sight. No explanation, no words at all.

In the Google Maps satellite picture of the area, you can see the falls as a white dash against the side of the hill as the brook winds to the left — in the same photograph, you can see something else, something below the pool — a faint skeleton of a rectangle with a gap at the bottom.

It’s a big rectangle, and if you turn away from the falls to look at it, you’d see a set of rough-concrete walls almost exactly the size of a swimming pool — vertical walls vanishing down into the loose and drifted riverstone, a gap at the bottom to drain the whole thing. Lots of people have told me it was a swimming pool, although I can’t find any official record that says for certain that it was. Rumour is that it was a great spot until a big storm filled it with rock, and after some attempts to clear it out, everyone just threw in the towel.

It shows a couple of things: one is that nature wins. The concrete rectangle has been overwhelmed by swept-down rocks, filled in and cracked and broken by the weight of rocks carried in high water.

But it’s a sign of something else, too: in a big province with towns of all sizes, one size of regulations doesn’t necessarily fit all.

Western Bay has never been

big enough for a full-sized, fully equipped swimming pool that fits all provincial regulations. Its concrete surround would not fit the bill today, but luckily, The Overfalls is a delightfully unregulated option.

Not so for Plate Cove East on the Bonavista Peninsula.

Plate Cove East has been in the news in the past couple of weeks because of its swimming pool and the catch-22 of provincial legislation.

Plate Cove East had a swimming pool that dates from 1967 — like the remains in Western Bay Brook, the Plate Cove East pool is in the middle of a stream. Stream water flows in, fills the pool, drains out the other side to the ocean. It’s emptied and cleaned once a week. The pool took a big hit from hurricane Igor, but, with $130,000 in help from

the provincial government, was reopened.

Until this year.

This year, another branch of government, Service NL, determined that the pool was a class-A pool, and therefore needed to have the water filtered and chlorinated. It may even need a lifeguard. You can understand Service NL’s position: pools have pool rules. The water has to be clear enough to see the bottom.

Here’s a Service NL spokesman in a written statement to The Packet: “Without a disinfection system, pool users could become sick from contaminated water. Given that the water being piped into the pool is very dark at times, a filtration system is needed to ensure the water is clear enough to see someone like a small child who might be in trouble at the bottom of the pool.”

Fair enough.

Here’s what Michelle Keough with the community’s recreation committee told  the same newspaper — “We’re not even an incorporated town. We’re not a local service district. We don’t have anything that governs us that would be able to manage that. … We’re just a committee organization trying to do better for the community.”

To go even further, if the community had simply thrown a dam across the brook in 1967, the swimming hole would be perfectly fine — many other communities do that now, and Service NL is fine with that because, well, because of the pool rules: “These regulations do not apply to natural bodies of water, contained, dammed or otherwise, which are used as swimming and bathing areas.”

Oh, and with the pool closed and drained, the kids in Plate Cove East are back swimming in the brook.

In exactly the same water that was so dangerous when it was in a pool.

Maybe, a few years down the road, the Plate Cove East pool will be in the same kind of shape as the concrete walls in Western Bay.

It’s reminiscent of the provincial government’s well-intentioned plan to close hundreds of town dumpsites across the province. The decision was the right one — scores of the sites were completely unregulated, with towns having no financial wherewithal to even bury their trash or put out dump fires.

But now, those same small towns, often with declining populations, are raising taxes drastically — sometimes by more than 100 per cent — solely to truck garbage, sometimes hundreds of kilometres, to dumpsites like Robin Hood Bay, where they also pay dumping fees.

Imagine if the shoe was on the other foot, and everyone on the Northeast Avalon was forced to truck garbage and pay dumping fees at a waste site on the outskirts of, say, Clarenville.

One thing’s for sure: one size of regulation doesn’t really fit that well at all.

Russell Wangersky is The Telegram’s news editor. He can be reached by email at