During those hot and hazy summer weekends of our adolescence, when for some reason we weren’t at the family cottage, my brother Tim and I would end up spending a good part of our Saturdays at Leaside Memorial Gardens Pool. For the uninitiated who think there’s only a hockey arena there (now with two rinks), tucked in behind is a pool, not to mention a curling rink.
Saturday afternoons at the pool yielded some of my clearest childhood memories. First you needed a membership to swim. For $7.00/year, you got a yellow card in a plastic sleeve that hung around our necks on a string – long before lanyard became more than a part of a sailboat’s rigging – and you could swim till you were waterlogged for free. There was also a lower-priced annual membership with a blue card, but that required a payment of 50 cents each time you used the pool. With twin sons who loved the water, my parents knew a good deal when they saw one and signed us both up for the $7.00/year all-you-could-swim-buffet membership.
Free swim was 2:00-5:00 Saturday afternoons. At about 1:50, Tim and I would jam our rolled-up towel and bathing suit between the seat and crossbar of our bikes, mount up and pedal to the pool, our yellow membership cards around our necks flapping in the wind behind us like a superhero’s cape. Naturally, this was back in the day before bike helmets were a thing, but somehow we made it unscathed every time. We’d flash our membership cards, be given a little key hanging from what looked like a brass safety pin on steroids with a locker number etched on it. We’d get changed as fast as we could with all the other kids in the locker room. A few of the younger boys were accompanied by parents who often looked as if they’d rather be at the dentist on the wrong end of a root canal.
After throwing our clothes into the locker – and I mean literally throwing – we’d pin the key to our bathing suit, run through the mandatory pre-swim shower with just enough drops of water on our face to appease the eagle-eyed lifeguard, and leap into the pool without ever actually running on the deck. But we learned to walk very, very fast.
It was, and remains, a great pool. As I recall, it was 75 feet long with a large shallow area and then the deep end. Back in the 1970s, insurance liability was clearly not the concern that it has become. So, at the deep end there were two low diving boards flanking the granddaddy 12-ft. high diving board, and they were all quite springing. It took a while, but Tim and I became very proficient diving off the high board with maximum arc and altitude. It really was the closest thing to flying we could imagine, at least until we built the hang gliders. Diving off that 12-footer remained the closest thing to flying. I think the high board was taken down a few years later, perhaps for good reason.
Lots of our friends and classmates would show up to swim, too, including a few girls in our class who were Saturday regulars at the pool. I can’t say for sure, but there may have been some showing off going on but they never seemed particularly impressed at our high board diving prowess. With so many pre-pubescent kids in the pool, matters sometimes got out of hand. Occasionally when the yelling, splashing, and crazy dives pushed the lifeguard’s patience just a little too far, she would blow three long blasts on her whistle, and we’d all have to get out of the pool for a much-deserved lecture. This often entailed being exiled to the sun deck for 15 minutes to cool down. Sometimes when we were tired of flying off the high board, we’d dive for our locker keys in the shallow end or try to glide underwater from one side of the pool to the other in a single breath. Everything was a contest.
We’d keep one eye on the clock, lamenting just how quickly the three hours zipped by. Then we’d towel off, ride our bikes home, and do it all again a week later.