Like most Antiguans and Barbudans, we were saddened to hear that Country Pond, that once-beautiful place of serenity and charm in St. John’s, is a polluted toxic stew. To be sure, this is not the first time that Country Pond has been deemed a murky and present danger to man, bird, beast and the environment. As far back as the end of 2010, the Chief Health Inspector at the time, Mr. Lionel Michael, declared that, “The Country Pond should be condemned, as it has been found to be unfit for human consumption or even contact.” He warned car washers to cease using the Country Pond’s water which he likened to raw sewage. Michael took the action after the disturbing death of hundreds of fish in the summer of that year. Subsequent water quality tests revealed that the pond was contaminated with faeces.
Country Pond was once a natural water catchment fed by the so-called ‘Little Pond’ to its east. It was called ‘Congo Pond’ for the Congolese slaves who crafted the marvelous stonework with which the natural catchment is encased. Historians reckon that the great stone work was probably completed some time in the eighteenth century. There are twenty-four steps to the bottom on the west side of the pond, and a few water valves on the north side at the bottom. Those valves once fed water into the city’s water system. Of course, back in the day, after the great fire of 1769 (started by a coal pot) that destroyed much of St. John’s city, that water was not used for human drinking, but rather for putting out fires (there was another dreadful fire in 1863) and to quench the thirst of the horses.
As you can imagine, Congo Pond, hereafter referred to as ‘Country Pond,’ was gorgeous – an oasis in the city, a watering hole for animals, and a charming rest area from the noonday heat for the weary. It added an Old World beauty to the city and is certainly one of our historic treasures. It has a sort of mystique, and could be really quite pleasing to the eye.
It was a recognition of the intrinsic beauty of Country Pond that led the Progressive Labour Movement (PLM) administration (1971 – 1976) of the late Sir George Walter to completely drain and clean the pond circa 1973. The pond is massive; very deep; a marvel, and curious Antiguans flocked to St. John’s to gawk at the huge undertaking. And the PLM folks were not done. They erected a lovely fence on the low wall surrounding the pond. (Prior to the historic PLM effort, the pond had no fence around it, rendering it unsafe, particularly to children). After the fence was installed, the PLM added some graceful antique-style light poles with large, round, light fixtures.
Needless to say, when the lights were turned on, Country Pond was “A thing of beauty; a joy to behold!” Tourists flocked to view it and take photos. Antiguans took a load off their feet next to the fence, under the shade of the ancient mahogany and palm trees that once surrounded the pond. A wide variety of fresh water fish, frogs, grasshoppers, crickets and other such creatures thrived. Anglers often took time out to fish in the clean and balmy waters of Country Pond. Some newlyweds chose the picturesque setting as the backdrop for their wedding day photos. And at nights, or a cool Antiguan evening, the croaking of frogs and the chirping of crickets and the enchanting glow of the lights, provided a most romantic setting for lovers. Oh, and don’t talk about a moonlit night – the moonbeams shimmering on the gentle ripples of Country Pond made for a most delightful setting! It was idyllic!
So what in the world happened to this national treasure? Why is this gem in the heart of our city now a national embarrassment – a putrid, festering swamp? Well, think, willful and wanton neglect, lack of vision, lack of good taste, lack of a true sense of values, misplaced priorities, vandalism, lack of pride and all of the above. Good grief! Woeful lack! In other parts of the world, mayors and city officials would do anything to have a pearl like Country Pond adorning their cityscape. For example, consider the many ponds in New York City’s Central Park, which are cleaned periodically, and are teeming with fish, swans, turtles, water lilies and cat tails. And the ponds in New York are surrounded by lights similar to those that we once had here at Country Pond. Ahhhh! They add to the aesthetics of a city. There are not many structures anywhere in the world quite like Country Pond, yet we take it for granted. Nay, we trample it underfoot, and Country Pond is now a filthy, watery grave.
True, an effort was made during the United Progressive Party (UPP) years to upgrade the pond. Lights were installed, and a fountain was placed in the water. Unfortunately, things fell apart. Look folks, from E.coli, to a host of other water-borne infections, Country Pond is now damned, and the health authorities are again cautioning residents to be careful. Car washers, they who have resisted earlier calls over the years to not use the water from Country Pond, are again being asked to refrain from so doing. All well and good!
But something must be done about Country Pond as a matter of urgency. We are calling on the administration to allocate some serious funding to the rehabilitation of Country Pond, something akin to the marvelous effort by the PLM administration in the seventies. We are calling on the Public Works folks to end the shameful practice of allowing waste into Country Pond. Re-route the waste and run-off from all the entities that now use Country Pond as a sewage disposal site. It is not rocket science. Replant some of the stately palm trees that once surrounded the pond. Stock the pond with fish, ducks, geese and swans. Add water lilies and other freshwater flora. Put in place some handsome, first-class benches and put back the Paris/New York-style lights around the perimeter. And put out a bid for a local Antiguan to rent small row boats to folks who wish to paddle away for a brief moment of leisure in the most beautiful place in St. John’s. A private Country Pond Conservancy could also be founded, that would be responsible for all things having to do with the pond. Fundraisers could be held every year. We believe that the Halo Foundation would also be willing to assist. Our Governor General, Sir Rodney Williams, and Lady Sandra Williams, are historically-conscious (see the remarkable restoration of Government House), and we believe that they would be excited to bring the gravitas and the gracious charm of their personalities and office to this most-worthy cause. Private citizens and NGO’s can also adopt Country Pond. Rise up, brothers and sisters! Let us take pride in that which is ours! Country Pond can once again bloom and flourish like a rose! Country Pond can once again be an oasis in the city!