Skip to content

Hundreds turn out to say farewell to Canada Games Pool

Memory booths, mementos and a visit the pool one last time part of the day’s fun

Learning to swim, falling in love, finding a sense of community in a new homeland, and hanging out with friends – these were some of the reasons hundreds of people descended on Canada Games Pool on the weekend for the Canada Games Pool farewell bash.

More than 800 people took the City of New Westminster up on its offer to tour the popular facility one last time. Soon, the city will hand the keys over to the contractor overseeing the construction of the new təməsew̓txʷ Aquatic and Community Centre and the demolition of Canada Games Pool.

“A lot of memories,” said Mumtaz Jamal. “You don’t want to miss it.”

Jamal recalled many family visits to the pool after moving to the neighbourhood 35 years ago, sitting in the bleachers while her children played in the pool. On Sundays, they were part of a group of friends who would meet for an afternoon of fun at the pool.

Al Jamal joined his mother and other family members at the Feb. 12 farewell celebration. As a kid growing up in the neighbourhood, he said the pool was the hangout for local kids, and the fitness area became his go-to spot starting in Grade 8.

“When you are a kid looking for adventure, do you want to go swimming at 6:30 in the morning? Are you kidding? Little kids hate to get up. I hated getting up but then when you came here, the mood was such a nice thing. We started working out,” he said. “It started a good fitness habit.”

Angela Lee, who participated in parent-and-infant aquatics classes with her then-baby, attended the farewell event with 13-year-old daughter Aimee Parent.

“It’s just closing the loop,” Lee said.

Gabriel Del Cid Castro used to attend Canada Games Pool as part of some swimming and athletics courses he was taking at Douglas College.

“Especially as a new immigrant, it was a community place,” he recalled. “Everybody here was so friendly. It was great.”

Renee Chadwick, the city’s manager of special projects and community partnerships, said it was heartwarming to hear people’s memories about their time at the pool, such as the couple who met in the swimming pool 35 years ago (and later married). Two fellows reflected how they visited the pool every morning, sat in the shallow pool and contemplated how they would solve all the world’s problems.

“It’s been emotional, exciting,” said Dean Gibson, the city’s director of parks and recreation. “The thing that has been absent is there is not a sense of sadness. There’s just the emotional aspect of it is being reflected on. It’s impacted people in lots of different ways.”

It started with an idea

Among those invited for a VIP tour of Canada Games Pool before Saturday’s public event was the couple who first pitched the idea of building a facility and having New West team up with Burnaby to host the Canada Summer Games –   Don and Evelyn Benson. The idea came to Don when he was appointed as a B.C. delegate to attend the first Canada Summer Games in Halifax and Dartmouth, Nova Scotia in the summer of ’69.

“Were it not for Don and Evelyn Benson, this facility probably never would have existed,” Gibson said. “They had four generations of the Benson family come with them. They had great grandchildren, grandchildren and his kids were all here. Of course it wasn’t the entire family but it was representative. I could see the sense of pride. And from their kids and grandkids – ‘oh, grandma and grandpa have done something special.’ It was nice to acknowledge them.”

Built in 1972 for the 1973 Canada Summer Games, the pool was, at that time, one of the largest in the country. More than 26 million people visited the pool during its 48-year history, with about 1,500 people visiting the facility daily and an average of 10,000 students attending swimming lessons each year.

Given those numbers, it’s not surprising that timeslots for the farewell event quickly filled up.

“It filled up within 24 hours,” said Lisa Kemp, the city’s program coordinator of special events. “And then we added extra spaces – twice.”

Former Canada Games Pool staff were also invited back for a visit, with about 40 people taking part in a walk-through of their old stomping grounds and sharing stories from their time at the pool. It also gave current staff a chance to hear some of the stories of staff who worked at the pool in the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s.

At Saturday’s event, visitors followed a designated route that started at the reception desk, moved upstairs into the fitness area (which has been home to a number of weightlifting champions through the years) and downstairs to the pool deck. Along the way they could stop at four memento tables, where they could pick up items like rubber ducks with the Canada Games Pool logo, and two photo booths, including one in the toddler pool.

One of the photo stations was in the mezzanine fitness area, overlooking the pool facility. Fitness equipment is being moved to the gymnasium at Centennial Community Centre this week, before finding a new home in təməsew̓txʷ Aquatic and Community Centre when it opens in late 2023.

Gibson said the new facility will have different areas for fitness activities, including a space that has a view of the pool.

“The cardio equipment – the treadmills, the bikes and whatnot – will still be in an area where they have an overlook into the pool. There’s a long corridor the length of the pool up on the second level,” he noted. “Unlike this facility, it will be in a separate climate-controlled environment. So those that hated the hot experience will love the new facility; those that really loved it will probably find the new facility perhaps a bit more conventional.”

Taking the plunge

Təməsew̓txʷ Aquatic and Community Centre will include an eight-lane 50-metre pool, a leisure pool with a lazy river, hot pools and tot zone, as well as a fitness centre, two gymnasiums, multi-purpose rooms and community gathering spaces.

The new pool won’t have a water slide, as that wasn’t deemed to be a priority during the public engagement process about the new facility, Gibson said.

“In 1984, when we put in the first slide it was called the Lightning Shute waterslide. Then it was replaced in 2008 with what we see today, which is the Green Thunder waterslide which at the time was the longest indoor waterslide in British Columbia,” he said. “I don’t know whether that is still a title that we hold.”

If you didn’t take a plunge into the pool from the 10-metre tower, you’ve missed your chance as the new facility’s diving boards max out at five metres.

Gibson said the 10-metre tower was included in the Canada Games Pool because it was built for the national sports event. Because the new facility isn’t intended to be an international competition venue, he said there was no justification for building a higher tower.

“It would have been part of the international diving standards of the day,” he said. “I have learned … that in the first few years after this facility opened and after the Summer Games had taken place, Canada Games Pool was actually a hotbed of national and international competitions, both for swimming and diving, but also for water polo. What happened was, over the course of time, is the various national and international standards changed and evolved, as they do, so this facility fell out of vogue in that area as new pools came onboard.”

As other pools opened elsewhere in the region, CGP pool staff found ways to help transition the facility from a competition venue into a community facility. A “fun supervisor” position was created to engage kids in the pool, through activities like creating a giant whirlpool in the shallow end and putting out mats, zip lines, rope swings and other activities – which were new to pools at the time.

“They kind of had their birthplace here,” Gibson said, “and we made this very much the concept of a leisure pool.”

From the time the pool opened in 1973, Canada Games Pool served as home base for the Hyack Swim Club. The club produced 11 Olympians who swam and trained at the pool, including two swimmers who won bronze medals at the Olympics (Shannon Smith in 1976 and Pamela Rai in 1984).

Təməsew̓txʷ Aquatic and Community Centre will include a eight-lane, 50-metre pool with a  removable bulkhead, which is well suited to training and hosting localized swim meets, but not larger competitions like national championships, Gibson said.

“The new facility will allow them to operate in largely the same fashion as they have at Canada Games Pool,” Gibson said.

End of an era

While it wasn’t visible to folks attending Saturday’s farewell event, work is already underway to shutter the doors of Canada Games Pool for good.  The city doesn’t have a date when the building will come down, but it will be handing control of the facility over to the contractors in the next few weeks.

“We are at a phase right now where we are pulling out any equipment that we can repurpose in our new facility or that we can use in the interim months,” Gibson said. “The fitness area will move over to the community centre next week, most of it.”

Removable items were always envisioned to be relocated to the new facility, but permanent structures, such as Canada Games Pool’s 40,000-square feet of wood roof decking and 11 laminated wood ceiling beams, were not incorporated into the design – as CGP was supposed to close on a Friday and təməsew̓txʷ Aquatic and Community Centre was supposed to open on a Monday.

“Of course, modern deconstruction standards would call for all of this wooden material to be salvaged,” Gibson said. “That would fall within the company that does the demolition itself. There is some value in this material.”

Originally expected to remain open until təməsew̓txʷ Aquatic and Community Centre opened in 2023, the city decided to permanently close the facility after a leak was found in the pool’s tank and flooding in a mechanical room.

At the farewell event, the city provided information about the new təməsew̓txʷ Aquatic and Community Centre and gave attendees a chance to participate in two art projects, such as decorating tiles with messages relating to their memories of Canada Games Pool.

“We are going to commission an artist to put it together,” Chadwick said, “and we are going to hang it in the community centre or include it somehow.”