By Terry Hughes
There were three iconic sport centres in Welland’s past. The oldest was Burgar Park, home to numerous baseball leagues; the Welland – Crowland Arena where hockey would reign supreme; and the Cross St. pools where swimming was mastered in a little more than two months.
The earliest memories at the Cross St. facilities were the two pools centred by a red brick change house and a small building where you had your clothes checked.
It was not uncommon for young mothers to take their children down to the wading pool, set up a blanket and chair and watch their kids jump into the pool. There wasn’t a fence nor showers so entering the pool could be done at a place of your choice. The floor of the pool had a gentle slope so that you learned to gradually work your way to the deep end. The sprinkler in the centre was the choice spot to get wet.
As time went on, improvements to the pool included a foot bath, showers and a fenced in enclosure as shown in the accompanying picture.
By now you came to the pool with kids from the neighbourhood armed with an old shirt, bathing suit and old shoes and made your daily journey on foot to the pool. This may have been your second trip to the pool because swimming lessons were going on in the morning.
The lure of the big pool always piqued one’s interest, particularly if you paid a nickel to check your clothes. Most often it was on a dare that running through the showers and foot bath, you found yourself at the top of one of two staircases that took you down to the water’s edge. At that time the area between these stairs was grass. It was home to a surfboard used for rescues, a lifeguard’s chair and a siren to get people out of the pool in an emergency. There was no catwalk!
And then that final moment came when one of you would dog paddle out to the chain that was anchored to the wall, cling to it for a few moments and return. Everybody followed suit.
The arrival of the catwalk benefitted both swimmers and lifeguards. The need to use the surfboard was negated and the guards had a new location to supervise swimmers and conduct swimming lessons. Now, we could jump and dive off the catwalk into deeper water.
If you wanted further adventures, jumping and diving into the canal off the wall was what it was all about. One day, I had decided to ride my CCM coaster bike down to the pool when I was approached by some older guy who wanted to borrow it. Somewhat dumbfounded, someone whispered that you’d better let him have it because he was a member of a bunch of street toughs!
Reluctantly, I gave him my bike and he informed me that he was going to ride my bike off the wall and into the canal at a spot just near the deep end of the pool called the pier. Sure enough he went tearing down the route that led him to the jumping off point. Just as he flew into the air, he pushed my bike downward and went into a “Mammy Yokum” dive and both hit the water in two different places!
He surfaced, rescued the bike and brought it up the stairs nice and clean and no worse for wear. Now I was the hero at the scene because he had used my bike for this stunt.
Swim meets were always popular. Hundreds of people would line the fences to watch our local favourites compete against other swimming clubs. Names included John Dudas, John “Wheaties” Reid, Bev Gardner and many others coached by Gord Sykes. Later, Rose Smith would take over after Gord retired.
In the evening the deep end of the pool was the scene of explosive stunts off the diving board. Doing “one leggers” and “tucks” would send huge plumes of water high above the fence and getting the spectators wet!
My interest in swimming would propel me into Royal Life Saving Classes and lifeguarding at the pool. In 1958 when the city was celebrating its Centennial year the staff dressed up in old fashioned bathing attire thanks to Ross Stores. Later, working on pool maintenance and pool manager, I worked all city pools except Maple Park Pool. But my favorite pool was Cross St.
Our last photo pictures a lifeguard, sixty-three years ago and about one hundred pounds lighter about to go on his break by diving off the catwalk into the refreshing waters of the Cross St. pool.
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(Terry Hughes is a Wellander who is passionate about heritage, history and model railroading. His opinion column, Heritage Lives, appears on the blog once or twice monthly.)