A moment in history: May 22, 1950

A moment in history: May 22, 1950

· The Pulse

On this day in 1950, Edmontonians weren't letting the cold keep them from the city's outdoor pools.

Chilly winds weren't enough to keep swimmers away from the opening weekend at three pools, according to the Edmonton Journal. That's not surprising, given how fanatical Edmontonians can be about squeezing everything they can out of short summers. And outdoor swimming has long been one of those collective passions.

In the early 1900s, there weren't many options for people who just wanted to take a dip. The North Saskatchewan River is fast-flowing and deep, making it largely unsuitable for swimming, and few other options existed. So, in 1917, a sort of proto-pool was created by building a temporary dam across Mill Creek, making for a safer place to swim.

The city's first real outdoor pool opened in August of 1922 in Riverside Park (now Queen Elizabeth Park). It was called the South Side Pool at the time, but over the course of the next century, it would be moved three times and get one name change to its current "Queen Elizabeth Pool." The pool's design was considered quite innovative at the time, including reinforced concrete that was designed to withstand damage from frozen ground.

The new pool proved to be extremely popular. Two more outdoor pools would open just a couple of years later, one in Borden and another in Oliver (or as they were called, the West End and East End pools, which highlights the size of the city at the time).

Unfortunately, not everyone was allowed to enjoy these pools to the same degree. The year before, city officials created an order that barred Black people from using city pools, a universal practice across Canada at the time. When Oliver Pool opened, two Black swimmers entered the facility — in response, all of the white people left in protest.

That came a month after another racist incident at Borden Pool, where a young Black boy was prohibited from swimming with a group of his friends. The boy's mother and a group of other Black citizens petitioned the city council to change the law, which they said invoked the spirit of "hateful Ku Kluxism." Eventually, aldermen rescinded the order and affirmed that all citizens would have access to the city's public pools, in what appears to be a first for Canada. There would still be some pushback from pool operators themselves, however.

It wouldn't be the last time Edmonton's outdoor pools became a diving board for social change. Up until the late 1930s, all pool-goers needed to wear a full top-to-bottom swimsuit. In 1932, three men were arrested for going to the pool wearing only swimming trunks. In 1937, the South Side Pool became the first place in the country to let men swim bare-chested.

A mere 85 years later, the city extended that freedom to all pool users, regardless of gender identity.

The Queen Elizabeth Pool celebrated a century in 2022, which included the creation of a mural highlighting its history. Both Wîhkwêntôwin Pool (formerly Oliver) and Borden Pool mark the same anniversary this year. More than a hundred years after some dry denizens of Edmonton dammed up Mill Creek, the city's passion for swimming season hasn't diminished. Queen Elizabeth was scheduled to open for the summer on May 18, though it was closed on May 21 due to inclement weather. Other outdoor pools set to open in May and June.

This clipping was found on Vintage Edmonton, a daily look at Edmonton's history from armchair archivist @revRecluse of @VintageEdmonton.