Tuesday, 22 January 2013

A history of the Sherbrook Pool. part 2: The glory years.

Sherbrook Pool
A four part series on the history of the Sherbrook Pool
Part 1: Conception and Construction (1930 - 31)
Part 2: The glory years (1931 - 1970)
Part 3: A New Era (1971 - 1991)
Part 4: The last chapter ? (1992 - 2013)

© 2012 Christian Cassidy

Sherbrook Pool

The Sherbrook Pool served a number of important functions in its early years besides just being a recreational oasis for a Depression-weary city.

As an unemployment relief project, it provided much needed income for dozens of families. As Winnipeg's only Olympic-sized pool, some histories say it was the only indoor pool of that size in the West at the time, it served the local and national competitive swimming community.

Numerous swim clubs began operating from the here soon after it opened. The Maple Leaf Club, Women's Amateur Swimming Club and Victoria Ladies' Swimming Club (VLSC) being the main ones. The VLSC was created in 1916 at the Cornish Baths by Miriam Tauntin and moved to the Sherbrook by 1932 under new coach Vera Tustin.

Each of these clubs held regular competitive swim meets and an end of season gala.

March 30, 1935, Winnipeg Free Press

At the end of the gala season the Manitoba Chapter of the Canadian Amateur Swimming Association (CASA) put on a swim carnival that was part competition, part fun. Often a headliner, a synchronized swimming team or acrobats, would start the show. This was followed by a meet that brought together the best swimmers from across the province to face off against each other and try for provincial and national records.

May 21, 1935, Winnipeg Free Press

Aside from sanctioning club meets and its own year-end gala, CASA also brought in national and international meets. In May 1935, for instance, the Sherbrook Pool was home to the Canadian national swimming championships attended by swimmers from across the country and Minnesota.

A woman who wowed the crowd at those championships was Moose Jaw's Phyllis Dewar, fresh from her quadruple gold medal performance at the 1934 Empire (now Commonwealth) Games. At the Sherbrook she broke the Canadian record for the one-mile event in a time of  23:32, the world record at the time was 23:17 (source.)

Winnipeg Tribune, April 29, 1939 (source)

In April 1939 the Sherbrook Pool again hosted the national swimming championships

Over the two days of competition, five national records were broken, three of them by Winnipeggers. National record breakers included Margaret Taggart (220 yards and 4 x 100 relay) and Freddy Carter (100 yards). The darling of the meet, however, was Manitoba Sports Hall of Famer Cay Gordon Kerr.

The Free Press wrote of the young swimmer:

Catherine Gordon stepped over a high threshold into the realm of aquatic greatness. Friday night, with the most splendid exhibition of controlled power ever witnessed by a Winnipeg swimming audience.

Gordon thrilled the crowd in the 100-yard freestyle. She was in fourth place after 75 yards but powered through the field in the last 25 yards to break the provincial record and fell just 1.25 seconds shy of the national time. She was also a member of the national record-breaking 400-yard freestyle women's relay that included Ethel Gilbert, Margaret Taggart and Grace Dick. To round out her achievements, she also set the provincial record in the 220-yard freestyle.

Other champion swimmers that came out of the ranks of the Sherbrook Pool in the 30s and 40s included Ethel Bieber and Vivian King.

March 7, 1942, Winnipeg Tribune (source)

Another couple important in the early history of the pool was Mr. and Mrs. George Harrison. They came from Britain via the U.S. and he was hired in 1914 as the city's first superintendent of public pools, (and of "public comfort stations" as for the first few decades the baths fell under the jurisdiction of the health committee.) 

It was Mrs. Harrison had the higher public profile, though. She was the founder of the Women's Amateur Swim Club and created the swim program Mrs. Harrison's Water Babies, who performed at the opening of Sherbrook Pool. It is thought that she taught thousands of Winnipeggers to swim in her 30-year career.

When the Sherbrook Pool opened the Harrisons moved into the upstairs suite, now a gym. She is listed as matron of the pool in early phone books and in 1933 had to retire from swimming due to ill health. Mr. Harrison retired in 1942.

June 6, 1936, Winnipeg Free Press

There was also a more serious side to the pool. In the 1930s the Royal Life Saving Society began holding water safety and life saving courses. In the 1940s the Canadian Red Cross did the same.

The national arm of CASA was also pushing to have swimming and lifesaving made part of public school programming across the country. The first two cities to sign on were Winnipeg (in 1943) and Ottawa. The importance of teaching theses lessons were driven home just months before the 1943 school year began.

Top: Winnipeg Tribune, June 7, 1943 (Source)
Bottom: Winnipeg Free Press, June 5, 1952

Roper Philpot, a 13 year old student at Pinkham School, went to the pool with friends on Saturday, June 5, 1943 for the hour-long public swim session. Toward the end of the session the boys reconvened at the lockers but Roper could not be found. Pool staff were notified but with 200 children in the water, no one could see a body at the bottom of the deep end of the pool. The boys left assuming that Roper would catch up with them later.

They reported Roper's disappearance to his parents. His mother called the pool and another search ensued. Mr. Roper drove to the pool and arrived just moments after his son's body had been pulled from the deep end. It had been under water for almost three hours. Despite this, the inquest exonerated pool staff as the famously cloudy water of the Sherbrook Pool prevented them from finding him in time.

Sadly, it was not the last drowning. In 1956, six year-old Kenneth Johnson of Hector Avenue was attending a Scout event at the pool. Similar to the Philpot case, despite there being a pool full of children, two lifeguards and, in this case, sixteen chaperones, nobody noticed him slip beneath the deep end's cloudy water. That inquest also cleared pool staff.

A third child, eleven year-old Elizabeth Rose Kopeschney, fell off the diving tower in August 1967 and landed on the tile deck. She died of head injuries in hospital two days later.

Lastly, Craig  Hutchinson, 17, drowned on February 6, 1988. Despite being rescued quickly, he could not be revived.

1947 ad

In 1944 the Sherbrook Pool itself had a near-death experience. It was closed on September 11th for an annual inspection and minor repairs that were expected to take a couple of months. Weeks into the work, the city received word that the pool had been condemned by engineers. Similar to what may have happened in 2012, the build-up of humidity had corroded the steel frame at the roof and the finance committee was told "The roof may cave it at any time and short circuits are everywhere...", (Winnipeg Free Press, Oct 21 1944.) The initial estimate was that it would cost more than $60,000 to repair.

While the city decided what to do, the local swimming community was thrown into chaos. The Sherbrook Pool had over 100,000 visits per year, including soldiers who were allowed in free of charge and children involved with school programs. There were also hundreds who were members of elite swim clubs and needed to train daily.

The only alternative at the time was the aging Pritchard Baths which was in its final years of life, and the Sargent Park outdoor pool that was built the same year as the Sherbrook.

September 28, 1945, Winnipeg Tribune

The city had to wait until the following fiscal year to begin repairs. Donald A. Ross, an architect and civil engineer involved with the original design, was hired in April 1945 to start the work which ended up costing less than half of what was first estimated. 

A newly renovated pool with a repaired frame and a hi-tech ventilation system reopened to the public on September 29, 1945. In its first three weeks of business 6,937 people passed through the doors.

1946 ad

In April 1947 the Sherbrook Pool hosted the ornamental swimming (now called synchronized swimming) national championships. That year was the pool's busiest with an annual attendance of 130,770. The total was bolstered by 10, 540 children involved in school programs and the fact that Pritchard Baths were now closed.

The Sherbrook Pool, now the city's only indoor public pool, was stretched beyond capacity for the next two decades as its programming and the population of the city both grew. On top of the swim clubs and public swims, there were now high school and junior high swimming leagues, a church league, the Winnipeg Water Polo League, boat safety courses and a growing number of school children. The YMCA and U of M held their swimming galas there and even the Jehovah's Witnesses sometimes used it for mass baptisms.

June 17, 1966, Winnipeg Free Press

The school division considered swimming not just a physical activity, but a life skill. Manitoba had one of the worst drowning rates in the country and school officials wanted to combat it by adding more school children to the "learn to swim" program. Finding available time was so difficult that school officials began adding indoor pools to the plans of future schools. The original 1964 plans for St. John's and Kelvin High Schools each included a $300,000 indoor pool facility that could be used by the public outside of school hours. The province, though, rejected the proposals.

Relief was soon on its way, though. For the 1967 Pan Am Games the city built a state of the art facility with numerous amenities not seen before at local pools, such as a weight room and saunas. The Centennial Pool opened in the North End in 1969.

These new facilities took the pressure off the Sherbrook Pool and on July 5, 1970 closed for an extensive refurbishment. The roof deck, ceiling, lighting and water heating system were all replaced.

When the pool reopened on September 21, 1970 it was a different facility in a different era. It was no longer Winnipeg's premiere aquatic facility and many of the clubs, leagues and gala events relocated permanently to the Pan-Am.

The pool was now a community facility lacking some of the extra amenities like saunas and weight rooms that would become the norm at aquatic facilities built throughout the 70s and 80s.

Sherbrook Pool Historic Buildings Committee
A Community Development Vision for Sherbrook Pool CCPA
My Flickr album of the Sherbrook Pool

Sherbrook Pool stuck in drainage cycle Winnipeg Sun (Jan 26, 2013)
Sherbrook Pool might stay afloat Free Press (Jan 24, 2013)
City gets Olympic push to fix pools Free press (Jan 23, 2013)
Many Woes at Sherbrook Pool Free Press (Jan 21, 2013)
Maddin to mayor: keep pool in picture Free Press (Jan 12, 2013)
Sharks to fight for Sherbrook Pool Winnipeg Sun (Dec 2012)
Sherbrook Pool to remain closed Global (Dec 2012)
Sherbrook Pool closure worries community group CBC (Dec 2012)

See the end of part four for the latest media links

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