Concerns over Saskatoon pond where boy died date back years, residents say

Neighbours said tall grasses and shrubs around Dundonald pond should not have been there, and may have prevented school staff from seeing a five-year-old wander into the pond.

Sight lines to nearby playground obscured by tall grasses, cattails

'The issue is the sight lines, the proximity to the school,' said John Barton, the former principal at Dundonald School. Up until his retirement in 2009, he remembered city crews regularly mowing the edges of the pond. (Albert Couillard/CBC)

People who've lived in Saskatoon's Dundonald neighbourhood for years said concerns over a pond where a five-year-old boy drowned last week are nothing new.

"We did go fight it initially," said Cary Tarasoff.

He said he and his neighbours raised objections before 2005, when the City of Saskatoon turned the drainage channel behind the school into a storm drainage pond. 

"It's turned into a slough," said Tarasoff. "There's no reason to have this water right beside the school."

Tarasoff said he remembers city officials at a community consultation assuring those present the edges of the pond would be mowed regularly, and that the bottom of the pond would be gravelled. 

Today, grass up to two metres tall surrounds the pond, which sits about 150 metres away from the school playground.

A small muddy footpath leads down to an impromptu memorial for the boy, who was found in the pond after he went missing from recess. A yellow kickball and a black sock can be seen in weeds along the shoreline.

Along with shrubs, trees, and benches along a city-owned pedestrian pathway, only the top of the school playground equipment can be seen from most vantage points around the water.

"He was concealed completely," said Tarasoff. "The police had to find him."

Residents felt concerns were ignored

Tarasoff said in 2004, the city was looking for ways to cope with excess storm water, as developers expanded new northwest Saskatoon neighbourhoods, including Hampton Village. 

But Tarasoff called the decision to convert Dundonald's storm outlet into a full pond "the cheapest option" rather than burying excess storm water in tanks or pipes underground.

Tarasoff said the city and its consultants paid "lip service" to concerns he and his neighbours raised, in order to build the storm drainage pond.

'We didn't want a whole bunch of foliage,' said Cary Tarasoff, whose children attended Dundonald School. He said community members pushed the city for clear sight lines between the pond, school playgrounds and a nearby spray park. (CBC)

City officials said they are reviewing old documents regarding decisions around the pond. They haven't yet found records from community consultations.

The boy's death has prompted the City of Saskatoon to do a review of storm ponds, and staff have met with the Saskatoon Public School Division to discuss how to improve safety near schools.

People want pond fenced

The school's former principal said the city used to do more to trim weeds, and keep sight lines open.

"When I saw the pictures on TV the other night I thought, 'Holy cow, that's not how it used to be with the rushes and things,'" said John Barton, the principal at Dundonald School from 2004 until his retirement in 2009.

"There were no shrubs there. There was no vegetation growing. And we had good sight lines — anybody did, in the park." 

Grasses and reeds up to two metres tall line the edge of Dundonald Pond. (Albert Couillard/CBC)

He said staff regularly warned students to stay away from the pond, particularly during freeze-up and spring thaw.

More than 800 people have now signed a petition calling for the pond to be fenced.


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