Little Quaqtaq's pool a source of community pride

Splish, splash, we're goin' for a swim


Five years after its construction, Quaqtaq's swimming pool remains the envy of Nunavik.

On a recent afternoon, the warm water of the pool reflects sunlight pouring in through large windows – although the outside temperature is more than 30 C colder.

"I love it," says a young swimmer who dives in and starts doing laps underwater.

Apart from the warmth, swimming at the pool means swimmers have no mosquitoes, rocks or dangerous currents to contend with.

Quaqtaq found the $1.5 million needed for its 30- by 60-foot pool's design and construction by drawing on money donated by Makivik Corp.

This was initially earmarked for a new arena, but the community, eager for a pool, was able to combine money from municipal infrastructure programs and other sources and direct the Makivik money towards the pool.

The pool's worth is shown by the skills learned by an avid new generation of swimmers and the pride displayed by the 360 residents of Quaqtaq.

During the recent Makivik annual general meeting, when the Isummasaqvik School gym was taken over by the gathering, many students went to the pool for their physical-education period.

Presiding over Quaqtaq's pool was lifeguard Carlee Neal, who was imported from the South five years ago.

Neal responded to an intriguing ad in a Montreal newspaper that promised the young lifeguard and swimming instructor a pool of her own to supervise, along with decent pay, housing and paid vacation trips back home.

Neal came in to replace the pool's first hire – a lifeguard who came up on one plane and took the next one back south.

Neal's years in Quaqtaq have not been entirely smooth. She says they've been marked by disagreements over what she was supposed to do, pay issues, where she would live, and what benefits she would receive.

Since the arrival of her new assistant, Maggie Arnatuk, Neal says the job has become much easier. Arnatuk, a former co-op employee, has taken to pool maintenance and communicates with pool users.

The pool requires constant supervision to keep its water at about 27 C. If it's too cold, no one wants to go in, if it's too hot, the chlorine needed to keep the water clean makes it cloudy.

The building isn't trouble-free, either. There's been mould, there should be more bathrooms, the locker rooms are too small, and the flooring materials are hard to keep clean. A Jacuzzi was broken for two years due to the difficulty of obtaining parts and maintenance.

And the pool sometimes sits empty. Since its opening, the pool has proven more popular with kids than adults.

Young children are supposed to be accompanied by their parents when they swim. But Neal wishes more parents would simply come and watch their kids.

"It's new, and the kids are excited about it so the parents should be excited about what they're doing," Neal says.

Arnatuk suggests that family swim periods aren't well attended mainly because some older people are afraid of water or don't know how to swim.

No swimming lessons are offered. So as it stands now, adult non-swimmers can't learn how to swim. This also means no local resident can be trained to take over Neal's job.

Users pay an entrance fee and a swim costs $4 for non-students and $2 for students. Families may buy a membership at $40 a month.

But operating the pool still costs the municipality $100,000 a year, says Quaqtaq's mayor Johnny Oovaut.

It would cost at least twice that if the pool had two lifeguards, who could also offer lessons, because the municipality would have to provide them with staff housing.

Neal now lives with her boyfriend, a policeman, in his staff housing unit.

Arnatuk's salary is paid through money from the Sanarrutik fund for social and economic development.

Despite the expense and trouble, other Nunavik communities want to build pools, and their leaders often mention this during regional meetings.

Kuujjuaq and Kuujuaraapik both have posh new pools. Akulivik, where the river has been responsible for several drownings, and Kangiqsujuaq, are among the other Nunavik communities where people want swimming pools.

To help pay for them, there's the Pivalliutiit program, which promotes community development, and helps non-profit and regional organizations develop infrastructure in Nunavik.

Administered by the Kativik Regional Government, the program is funded by Quebec's native affairs secretariat, the Secrétariat aux affaires autochtones.

Through the Sanarrutik fund, Makivik has also paid out $1.5 million to help kick start swimming pool projects.

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