BY TERRY HUGHES
It’s 1953 and after an intense six-week workout in the pool, we have arrived to get our awards ranging from Junior to Senior Red Cross levels to Royal Life Saving Badges. This program was one of the most successful sports endeavours supported by the city and sponsors ever, in that numerous lives were saved by teaching our kids to swim. Let’s face it, the canal, river and two of the Great Lakes presented a real hazard to those unfamiliar with the water. I cannot recall any drownings from people who were involved in this program. Two fatalities at the pool were due to sunstroke and an after-season diving accident.
The Cross Street pool was staffed by great individuals including my junior instructor, Jane Duff, who was my first childhood crush. Lee Maus was as hard as nails but no one failed her classes. And if you reached senior or life-saving classes you had the handsome Frank Doan to complete your training.
Most people don’t remember the grass that separated the two staircases next to the walls. The lifeguard’s chair and a surf board occupied that grassy spot. The catwalk had been a recent addition making it easy for us to get to the deep end. A one-metre board offered the older guys opportunity to do cannonballs, one leggers and tucks that would send a huge plume of water all over the people standing at the fence. Before completion of the Memorial Park pool, you would see as many as 1,200 to 1,400 people a day in that pool!
A job as a lifeguard had its advantages particularly if you wanted a great tan. I was fortunate enough to hold this job during our Centennial Year when we were expected to wear old-fashion bathing suits compliments of the Ross Store. And one of our staff, Donna Villard, looked great in any kind of bathing attire! Gord Sykes developed competitive swimmers like John Dudas and John “Wheaties” Reid. Rosie Smith started her group here before St. George’s Pool was built.
This historic structure served as an aqueduct over the Welland River for 75 years and a swimming pool for nearly 40 years. Despite efforts in 1984 and 2009 to develop this site as a national historic monument, the present city administration is willing to see it taken over for some type of private enterprise.
(Terry Hughes is a Wellander who is passionate about heritage, history and model railroading.)
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