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Looking back 80 years, senior swimmers recall stories about BC's oldest pool
You know summer's reaching its end when the pool closes for the season, as the Rossland Pool did last week after celebrating it's 80th birthday earlier in August—making our humble pool the oldest non-oceanic outdoor pool in the province!
Robin Hethey of Rossland Recreation organized the party on Aug. 15, complete with races, a Red Cross Swim Olympics, a watermelon-with-vaseline competition, cake and more.
"It was a great day," she said, "lots of people came out."
Hethey said she isn't 100 per cent positive the pool is BC's oldest, "but I'm more and more convinced that it is."
In 1931, Vancouver (and BC's) first three pools—New Brighton, Jericho, and Kitsilano—were built by labourers at 10 cents per day plus lunch as part of a provincial back-to-work program.
"Technically, those pools are a year older," Hethey said. But Vancouver's pools didn't have circulation, heating, and disinfectant like Rossland's did in 1932. The Vancouver pools were simply a concrete wall in the ocean, with a sandy bottom and two bathtub drains—once per week, the pool was drained at low tide and filled at high tide, she said.
A number of Rossland's most venerable residents came to the 80th birthday party, including Albert "Cookie" L'Ecluse who was there for the celebrations on the day the pool opened.
"I was 15," L'Ecluse said. "There were a lot of people—and hungry! I was always hungry."
The construction had proceeded at an incredible pace, beginning on June 15, 1932, and it was completed before opening day on Aug. 8, according to research by the pool's new senior staffer, Mark Andrew. He attributed the speed partially to "a lot of volunteers."
The Rossland Miner headline on Aug. 11, 1932, read: "Beautiful New Swimming Pool is Opened—Rossland's dream of years is realized through generosity of townspeople, volunteers and public-spirited oldtimers."
The legacy of volunteerism didn't end there, and the pool's many incarnations and societies over the years have depended fundamentally on Rossland residents' willingness to give their time.
But young L'Ecluse hadn't paid any attention to the speedy construction. "I wasn't interested," he said. "There were no girls there."
Rossland's ladies presumably came to the grand opening, however, since L'Ecluse jumped in the pool soon afterwards and remembered trying to keep up with another swimmer who could go a full length underwater.
"I got about 30 feet there, and I wanted some air," he said. "So the pool went down about two inches because I swallowed it!"
Another senior swimmer, Allan Martin, recalled returning to Rossland after his father's service in World War Two. His father became one of two instructors at the pool.
"There was a wooden fence all around. Next door there was a little park there with a wading pool," Martin recalled, pointing at the corner where City Hall now sits.
This revelation created some consternation as others in the crowd thought the wading pool was in "Wading Pool Park" that sits between the pool and the apartments to the west. It turns out this park also had a wading pool, but many years later.
Martin also remembered the boys changing room having a "little space where the showers went through" that allowed them a peep into the other changing room, "if you were tall enough."
"That was the thing the boys always talked about," he laughed.
"I only heard about it," chuckled Bob Miller, another original swimmer who denied he'd taken a look himself.
"I learned to swim in this pool when I was about 5 or 6 years old," Miller said. "This was our whole summer holidays during the 1930s here."
"At one time, there was a large outdoor checkerboard built into the ground," he recalled, with hooks on the big metal pieces to move them around.
"There used to be a one metre [diving] board, and three metre board at the south end, and the pool was quite shallow. When you went off the three metre board, you had to be sure to put your hands down. More than one person hit their head!"
Miller also remembered that Wednesday was pool cleaning day. "As it got towards Wednesday, the water got a little darker and a little warmer—I can't imagine why," he said.
He added that he didn't recall any infection problems with ears or eyes, and they never had to close the pool. "Maybe we were hardier in those days," he said.
Other stories ranged from the free energy from West Kootenay Power to heat the water, and the "rain or shine" opening on May 24, and a regatta closing with races and diving competitions on Labour Day.
"This was a great place to have," Miller said.
It also churned out some competitors, and Miller remembered going to swim meets at Lakeside Park in Nelson in the 1940s.
"There are still three of us in Rossland who went to those competitions: Mary Lou Jenner, Kelly Campbell, [and me]," he said.
Recreation director Hethey laughed as she related another landmark event in 1932: "It turns out that 80 years ago was when Rossland got concrete on the streets, and now, 80 years later, we don't have concrete!"
Hethey said 2012 has been a dynamic and fun year at the pool, although there have been some challenges finding qualified life guards. The pool brought in Mark Andrew this year from Vancouver Island to help out.
"We've also been able to bring in some new kids who are just working through all their certifications, and supporting them with some employment—getting their foot in the door doing cashier work and learning the ropes as junior guards."
The pool will reopen next summer for it's 81st year.