Cranbrooks Gyro Swimming Pool
The Gyro Pool
With the guarantee of financing from the Cranbrook Gyro Club the City of Cranbrook undertook one of its most ambitious projects to date, in the height of the Great Depression. Rumor surfaced in January of 1930 that the Gyros were ready to donate $5,000 to the construction of a swimming pool in Baker Park, quickly substantiated by an ad in the Cranbrook Courier at the end of the month announcing that the swimming pool was assured. And not only was it assured, but is was a sure thing for the summer of 1930.
Before construction began the estimated cost of the project was $7,000. Realizing that the ideal solution would be a concrete pool with heated water and a covered enclosure, the partners quickly set that solution aside as being financially out of reach. City Superintendent, and Gyro member, Dave Philpot's solution was a draw-and-fill pool situated in Baker Park. He proposed to divert Joseph's Creek for a distance of 350 feet, and in the creek bed construct a 125 x 250 foot public pool. Philpot already envisioned it as the beauty spot that it would become, situated on the edge of town and bordered on the west by Lumsden Avenue and on the south by Edwards Street. An additional bonus was the fact that the pool would be situated in close proximity to the City Tourist Park.
Before construction even began the Gyro Club visualized the site as a semi-natural lake paralleling Lumsden and separated from the street by a sand beach 25 feet wide by 250 feet long. They also saw concrete sidewalks, ornamental light standards, sloping grass lawns and trees along the east side of the pool, a parking lot and dressing lockers. Having saved money since the inception of the club in 1924 the Gyros did not intend to go cheap on their first public service project.
The initial technical specifications called for an excavation that would yield an average depth of eight feet of water along the whole east side for a width of about sixty feet. The bottom of the pool, covered with eighteen inches of sand, would slope from no depth at the beach to eight feet near the centre of the pool. At the south-west corner there was to be a section 50 by 100 feet, fenced off with a maximum depth of thirty inches. This of course was to accommodate all the very young swimmers. The plans called for concrete walls across both ends and along the east side of the pool.
The resulting enclosure held approximately one million gallons of water. Metal riffles were built up the creek, with the intake flowing over them and catching the heat of the sun throughout the day. A supply of water , not very deep, was kept flowing over the riffles, with all the surplus water flowing under the pool by means of a concrete bypass pipe.
Helen Taylor, a longtime Cranbrook resident recalls that "My parents took me to the swimming pool and I learned to swim there. The fenced area went to thirty-three inches deep. It was almost too deep for me. There was a nice little slide in the shallow end, for young kids." Then Helen went on to utter the words most associated with Gyro pool. "The water was cold! During the first years they did have a metal trough that the creek water ran over, warming it up some. I used to lay down in the trough, where the water was about four inches deep."
In March $4,000 was handed over to the City council to defray the primary costs of construction on the pool. June 1st was set as the possible official opening date. By the end of March the city crews had the site cleared and had begun construction. An optimistic report in the Cranbrook Courier of April 10, 1930, stated that "Work on excavating for the swimming pool in Baker Park is being pushed rapidly. Given favorable weather and unless unforeseen circumstances arise to militate against the project the pool will be ready before the appointed date, June 1st."
Before construction was completed the Gyro Pool was being promoted as ranking "with the largest outdoor pools in the province." Inevitably and quite rightly, it was also anticipated that the pool would be an immense municipal asset and a tourist asset of inestimable value. The pundits were correct on both counts.
In The Cranbrook Courier of May 29, 1930, City Superintendent Philpot announced that:
"With sanding of the big 125 by 250 foot floor completed and laying of sun riffles at the end of the feed sluice receiving the finishing touches... intention of turning water into the swimming pool tomorrow. That plan ensures warming up of the water for five clear days prior to the opening regatta on Thursday, June 5th.
"Construction of the pool is a workmanlike and substantial job. Three concrete walls, backed by banked clay defines the pool limits on the north, east and south, and on the west, paralleling Lumsden Avenue, banked earth, surmounted by a concrete sidewalk, forms the western wall. Between the western wall and the western margin of the pool proper, a wooden partition has been built to hold back a strip of sandy beach or play spot on a level with the surface of the sidewalk. When funds are available the sidewalk will be continued on all four sides of the pool.
"On the southern end is a bathing place for little tots. The area is protected by a fence and is in no place more than eighteen inches deep, and well floored with fine sand as is all other parts of the big tank. About 1,000 cubic yards of sand have been laid on the pool floor and western embankment, Mr. Philpot said.
"The Gyros, who furnished the funds for pool construction and under whose auspices the regatta and midway will be held, are unanimous in stating that the pool has been built at an extremely low cost. Including the sidewalk on the western side which may be regarded as an extra for the time being, the pool when opened will have cost $4,800.
"For the present summer at least the pool will be fed by a ditch from Joseph's creek, surplus water being diverted around the eastern side between the wall and dressing lockers."
On the fourth of June some young swimmers gave the pool an early tryout. Both boys and girls had an obviously good time, however brief, but no one was overheard to say "Come on in, the water's fine." The cold was a repeated refrain.. Young Barbara Beale, arriving home with her roommate from University in Winnipeg in May of 1934, recalls that:
"I had raved about our pool and couldn't wait to take my friend for a swim. Without thinking about the fact that the water came from Mackenzie pond and that it was early spring, we ran down to the pool and immediately dived in. The water, not long descended from the snowy mountains, was close to 40 degrees Fahrenheit. I can still picture the look of utter shock on my friend's face as she emerged from her dive. Believe me, that water was cold!"
Nothing stopped the crowds from coming, however. The fact that it was free plus the fact that it offered immediate relief from the beating heat of summer, guaranteed users in the hundreds, and later in the thousands on some days. Tourists, as well, were quick to point out that the swimming pool helped enormously in making Cranbrook's tourist park one of the finest tourist camps in the west. In 1931 Cranbrook registered July temperatures of 94° and higher, and residents flocked each day to the Gyro pool.
The Gyros continued to support development of the pool and the surrounding area through 1938, when they made the gesture of offering the facility to the City of Cranbrook, with the proviso that it remain free for the use of all and that a lifeguard and swimming instructor be maintained there. The City accepted on July 27th, 1939. R.E. Sang, in his presentation address to the Mayor and residents, stated unequivocally that:
"Many of you have seen this pool and its immediate surroundings improve as the years went by. Something new and creditable was added each year. Well do we remember the swimming pool in its infancy. Rather crude in many respects and resembling more a frog, polly-wog and blood sucker hatchery than anything else. Many a mother blamed her child's ailments, ranging from dandruff to fallen arches, on the pool as it was in those days.
"Needless to say these difficulties were overcome. You have seen hundreds of thousands of people from all over the world enjoy themselves in the refreshing water.
"We are told that we have one of the finest and largest pools on the North American continent."
The City agreed to construct an ornamental fountain in the centre of the pool to stand as a permanent memorial to the outstanding work of the Gyro Club. Throwing out many jets of water and graced by concealed coloured lighting, the fountain contains the emblematic gyroscope. Designed by Dave Philpot, the fountain stood as a mark of his devotion and creativity as well as paying homage to the fact that, ultimately, the Gyro Club of Cranbrook contributed some $11,000 to making the largest pool in Western Canada a reality.