Backyard Pool

It was 1988 and the year of the strike at Bell Canada. The one that broke the union. And for those on the line it was the year that some lost their homes. Some never recovered financially. Some lost their families too.

For the managers like myself, 1988 was known for the Summer of ’36. That summer we made $36 per hour replacing those regular installers and maintenance folk who picketed. We were shipped to various locations around the province. We worked hard and were away from our families for more than 10 weeks, but we were paid the big bucks. And overtime cut in at about 3:30 in the afternoon on a day that lasted until 9pm.

When it was all over at the end of September our family had already made plans to spend the extra money. And we invested it in an in-ground swimming pool.

While it proved to be a costly investment, it was a treasure that our kids would never have been able to obtain had it not been for that crazy strike. They learned to swim like fish and so did their friends who were lucky enough to share in the diving, swimming, splashing and laughing that went on throughout the summer months. A Canadian swimming season can be stretched from late May until early September, but the water can also be quite cold at each end. Kids don’t care. They can’t seem to get enough of it. We never had to worry about where they were or what they were doing, either. They were always at our house, mostly spending their time in the pool.

While the pool looked so beautiful next to the growing plants and flowers in our yard and added a special beauty to the property, it was the pool’s positive and lasting memories that left an indelible impression on our family. Today a pool is an intrinsic component of our son’s house and family in far-off Australia. A backyard pool proved to be the key factor for our daughter’s choice of houses in a small town outside Ottawa.

Good times, yes. And continuous maintenance, of course. Lots of chlorine and other pool chemicals had to be added and of course the mix had to be just right or the algae gained the upper hand. Opening and closing the pool was a chore and eventually we hired someone to do it for us. We even bought a gas heater to make the season longer and the evening swims pleasant for mom and dad. There is nothing quite like bobbing up and down on a cool summer evening when the water temperature is 30°F warmer than the surrounding air.

Every year there was some real challenge, usually a mechanical one. It started the year after the pool was built. Mysteriously that year the water level dropped and eventually we concluded that blasting for the new highway almost a mile away had affected our main drain and caused it to leak. We sealed it. One year a crack in the steps appeared. We had a neighbour who repaired airplanes use some next-generation epoxy to repair it. One year we sealed an outlet broken by a burrowing ground hog. Frequently we had to repair the secondary outlets and every year in the fall we needed a diver to check and repair liner leaks. Despite the many patches and fixes we required over the years, like a trusted pair of old shoes, the pool kept functioning.

One day more than 25 years after it was built, we sensed the problems had become too difficult for patchwork repairs. We called in our “pool man” for a detailed assessment of the state of the pool.

A skilled technician with “pool sense” he had some incredible tricks for keeping the pool going. We trusted him entirely. He was an honest religious man who hired those less fortunate than himself to assist him. He always sent a personal Christmas card thanking us for using his services. Unfortunately for him, though, his horrible business sense kept him poor despite his expert knowledge and hard work. We continuously had to remind him to bill for his services as he would never take cash, simply responding: “Please pay me when you get my bill”. I was appalled one year to hear that Revenue Canada was garnisheeing his wages for taxes owing. (Understandable perhaps, as he was inclined to write off expensive costs for those he felt were having financial difficulties and, as he often told us and no doubt others, to pay simply what they could afford.)

Ever the honest technician, he advised us that the pool would not likely last much longer in its current patched state. It needed a new liner, a new skimmer, the pipes reconfigured, and for safety sake because the local regulations had changed, a restructuring of the pool itself to a constant depth of 5 feet in the deep end. When he told us it would cost $40,000 to fix the pool, we knew it was the end of the line.

By that time, the kids were both involved in their own new lives, one living out of the country and the other several miles away. Sadly we decided to fill the pool in. As it turned out, this was a major job, for all metal had to be removed from the ground and considerable dismantling of the side walls was required. We insisted on a work order with a detailed payment schedule and paid him as the work was done. As a last gesture, our pool guy found someone with clean fill to bring it up to the level of the surrounding lawn and garden. Later we added almost 30 yards of top soil.

By late 2012 after 25 years of (fairly) reliable service and countless fond memories, the pool was gone.