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Pass the stink test? Student pitches swim spot on Halifax Waterfront

Anika Riopel wants people to start seeing the Halifax Harbour as a 'success story' -- by swimming in it.

A rendering of the proposed Jump In project on the Halifax Waterfront.

Outside! Planning and Design Studio / Contributed

A rendering of the proposed Jump In project on the Halifax Waterfront.

Anika Riopel wants you to forget about what Halifax Harbour used to look – and smell – like, and just jump in.

The Dalhousie University student, who moved to Halifax three years ago, is part of a team pitching a public swimming area for the Halifax Waterfront.

“I really like swimming and I moved to Halifax for the ocean, and so I started asking around about being able to swim in the harbour just because it’s downtown and it’s convenient,” she said in an interview. “And I, resoundingly, was told by people that it’s gross and that it wasn’t doable and that that would never happen.”

Riopel said she’s stubborn, so she started researching the harbour, looking at water quality data. She found that Halifax Harbour is no longer “like swimmin’ in diseases,” as one local rapper mused in 2005.

Save for nine months in 2010 after a sewage plant failure, the harbour has been clean since 2008. Former Mayor Peter Kelly even went for a dip at Black Rock Beach to prove it.

But Haligonians haven’t forgotten about the floatables.

“I think that when we have memories of how things are it’s really hard to let go of those, particularly because they’re … visceral memories of what it looked like,” Riopel said.

“It was pretty gross for a long time, but I think our harbour is a success story, and I think we need to start seeing it as a success story.”

The best way to do that, Riopel believes, is to start using it.

She jumped in herself for a promo video last week – and didn’t get sick.

“It was so much fun and it was pleasantly refreshing,” she said. “It was pretty exhilarating to actually be able to jump in.”

Riopel’s group has come up with plans for docks, swim lanes and a jumping platform next to the drunken lampposts at Bishop’s Landing on the waterfront.

“I think the best way to think about it is a public beach, but instead of it being a public beach, it’s built urban infrastructure,” Riopel said.

Riopel envisions a partnership between Waterfront Development Corp., which owns the land, and Halifax Regional Municipality.

The municipality would test the water, like it does with its beaches, and have a lifeguard on site.
Riopel will be at the proposed location next week collecting public feedback about the project, and then she hopes to get things moving.

“I would love to see something up by next summer,” she said. “We’ll see.”

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