By Terry Hughes
For many of us, our growing-up years involved some time at the pool complex because there were two pools that hosted us.
Our day as seven and eight-year-olds began in the morning with swimming lessons where hundreds of us met and learned basic ways of becoming friendly with the water in the wading pool.
We walked to the pool in just swimsuits, a towel, T shirt and running shoes. If you had a nickel, you could get a shopping bag into which you put your belongings and had them placed in that orange building at the top of the hill near the big pool. For most of us, however, you saved your nickel and placed your clothes in what you thought was a secure spot outside the wading pool. A quick trip home for lunch and soon, you were on your way for an afternoon of fun, running under the sprinkler in the centre of the pool or doing belly flops at the deep end. Shivering, you looked for a sunny spot to dry-off, checking out the clouds for monster faces or atomic bomb explosions and then took another round in the water!
As time and your degree of courage grew, your need to graduate to the big pool finally took hold. Walking through the showers that served as a shocking experience in itself, you found yourself standing at the top of the stairs, wondering if you made a mistake. Timidly, you walked down to the water’s edge and headed to the wall where chains hung and offered you a place to which to dog paddle. And after many attempts with your friends as witnesses, you succeeded in splashing to the chain and back. After that, your days in the wading pool were over. And when the catwalk was built, it enabled us to venture forth to deeper and more thrilling experiences.
Welland offered the best swimming program anywhere. Instructors that governed my years in the pool were, Jane Duff on whom I had a boyhood crush, Lee Maus and Frank Doan. Lee took over the role as our Life Saving Instructor and I was able to earn four life saving awards thanks to her efforts. I cannot recall any of us who took lessons with Lee that ended in failure. I would be rewarded with an opportunity to act as a lifeguard, a very prestigious job with those of the female gender.
Thousands of kids would benefit from this program and no one ever drowned in the Cross St. Pool! Two fatalities – one from sunstroke and the other a diving accident after the pool closed, were the exception.
And what about the fun we had in the canal? That’s for a future article.
Next column: Before the Titanic, there was the Fort Henry on Welland’s waterfront.
(Terry Hughes is a Wellander who is passionate about heritage, history and model railroading. His column, Heritage Lives, appears on the blog once or twice monthly.)