Sunday, March 21, 2021

The Wall Went South

This is a story about a wall. No, not that wall. 

Last fall, the retaining wall across the back of our property failed. Throughout the month of September, a lot near us was undergoing site preparation so that the new owner could build a house there. We reside in a very rocky, rugged, hilly coastal area, and so for three weeks we lived with the noise and vibrations caused by heavy equipment and a rock-breaker nearby. 

Fence Falls Over the Edge
The week that that the rock-breaking stopped, on a wet stormy day, we looked out the window and noticed that our fence had a sag in it. Our fence was built along the top of our retaining wall. Rob went out and inspected and saw that a few large rocks were bulging out of the wall and pulling the fence down. 

Thinking that the vibrations of the rock-breaking had loosened our wall, I immediately called our house insurance agency. But it was a Friday, and no agents were available to take my call. 

In heavy rain over the weekend, a section of the rock wall began to collapse. The collapse pulled the fence apart, and two sections of it went down the hill. 

The only thing that seemed to be keeping the fence from tumbling all the way down the steep hill was that it, and the big chunk of concrete it was attached to, was hung up on a small tree, part of the natural wild vegetation on the hillside. 

On Monday, I managed to reach an insurance agent, who transferred me to the insurer, who transferred me to someone else, who transferred me to someone else. I spoke to people in Toronto, in Calgary, and who knows where.

Fence Gone
Eventually, the company sent someone local out to have a look at the failed retaining wall. We waited to hear about the results of our claim.

In the meantime, the heavy rain continued nonstop. More of the wall fell away and the rocks rolled down the hill. Rob went out and dismantled the pieces of fence -- a dangerous job as large rocks and chunks of concrete loosened from the wall teetered precariously above him. 

A month after the event, we received news from the insurance company that they would not cover the cost of repairing the retaining wall.  

We began phoning excavation companies trying to find someone to come and repair the retaining wall. We knew it was going to be very challenging to repair for a couple of reasons.

  • The slope beneath the retaining wall is very steep
  • There is no access route for equipment to the retaining wall from below 
  • There is no access to the backyard for heavy equipment from the front of the house, either, because the house extends almost all the way across the width of the lot. A deck on one side stretches out almost to a large cedar hedge, and a fence and shed block access on the other side of the house.
Looking Over the Edge Down the Steep Slope

Fortunately, we own the land below the retaining wall, all the way to the road below. It has been left in a natural condition, so we didn't have to worry about damage to other people's property or to any landscaping below. Also, fortunately, our house is built on solid rock and is far enough away from the retaining wall and steep slope that we weren't worried about damage to the foundation of the house. 

However, the entire backyard is a beautiful garden. The previous owners were avid gardeners, and one of the reasons we were so attracted to this property was because we loved the landscaping. 

Around the end of October, we found a local contractor who said he could do the work. He came highly recommended by two friends who both have engineering backgrounds. However, he was very busy and said he couldn't do the repair until March. 

He said the shed and more sections of the remaining fence would have to be dismantled to get the equipment in. 

We were worried that as we waited throughout the winter, more of the retaining wall would fall away. We have ponds and a gazebo, both quite near the edge, and feared that we would lose both in the repair process. He said he thought he could reconstruct the wall without taking down the gazebo or ponds.

View From Below the Collapse
Meanwhile, we had one of the rainiest winters on record. Throughout the winter, we watched more rock go down the hill.

The Shed

I dug out several small shrubs and perennials from the area of the garden above the collapsed wall and transplanted them to other places in the yard. We left some shrubs and all the trees in place because they were too big for us to move. Also, we hoped their roots would help hold the soil in place until it was time for the excavator to come.

In early February, we hired someone to come and dismantle the shed and some sections of fence. I felt sad to lose a perfectly good garden shed. It seemed like such a waste. However, it needed to be taken down so the equipment could get into the backyard. 

I was also sad that we would be losing much of the beautiful garden in the backyard. 

The Beautiful Garden in October

On a rare sunny day last October, I took this photo of the back garden with all its colours. 

So, how does this story end? Did the contractor show up in March? Was it possible to repair the retaining wall? Did the fishpond have to go? To be continued...