Wednesday, July 25, 2018

50 Years of Central Park Pool in Burnaby

Central Park Pool

When I was a little boy in Burnaby, there were two outdoor pools that were within a reasonable distance of our home.  There was also a wading pool at Lobbley Park, but it was too shallow to actually swim in.  The two real pools were MacPherson Pool and Central Park Pool.  MacPherson was definitely closer, but cost 15 cents for a child admission.  Central Park was a fair bit further but had only 10 cents admission.  I first went to MacPherson when I was about 7, and that was my go-to pool for a long time. I was allowed to ride there, but Central Park was off-limits.

Getting There

When I was 9 years old, I begged my mom and dad to let me go to Central Park with my friends. This was originally not for the pool but simply to have adventures in the big forest trails.  It was spring time and my parents finally gave in.

At the time I had a small bike that I was starting to outgrow, with a banana seat.  We'd go to Sussex on Victory, cross Imperial, then we took a bunch of short cuts between apartment buildings and yards that didn't have fences. No one ever complained about it. I think they understood that the alternative was us little children riding our bikes down Imperial or Kingsway.  Finally, we'd enter the park about where the tennis courts are (and were).  We'd tear down the main trail, and we'd always hit our back-pedal brakes at the end where the horse-shoe pitch was, to see who could make the longest skid mark.  Then we'd start driving through all the side trails.

Yesterday... and 50 Years Ago

Yesterday (July 24, 2018) we had 32 degree Celsius heat with a humidex that made it feel like 35 (95 Fahrenheit).  So I decided to go to my old haunts to swim.  While I was there beating the heat, it struck me that my first time swimming there would have been pretty nearly 50 years ago!

Memories of Swimming at 9-years-old

As I swam and watched some of the children around me, I started recalling what it was like to be 9, 10, 11, 12 years old, and swimming with my friends in that pool.

I recalled distinctly how it felt to be getting ready. Boy's bathing suits today are like full shorts. They go down to your knees. We would have laughed at anyone wearing something like that to a pool when I was little.  I'd put my skimpy little bathing suit on, then grab a towel and put it over my shoulders. Then I'd hop on my bike and ride to my friend's place. We'd ride around to a few other homes to pick up our group. Usually somewhere between 4 and 10 of us would finally set out.

No one wore a helmet.  I remember there was a young man who wore a helmet to walk. I suspect he had Cerebral Palsy, and he had trouble walking, and the helmet was to protect him if he fell.  I always felt sorry for him, but a helmet made me think of him. None of my friends ever hit their heads falling off their bike that  I know of, and I don't know of any other child who had a head injury.  After a fall or two, you made sure you didn't fall, and drivers knew that every side-street would have a handful of little children riding bikes around, so they were just more careful.

No one wore shoes. Our bikes had nice rubber pedals.  You'd put the instep of your little foot over the pedals and you'd pedal away.  As you rode, you created your own breeze, and it felt absolutely delightful to have that breeze blowing through your little bare toes.  It also felt nice to have that rubber under your little bare feet.  If you stopped, it felt nice to put a bare foot down on the hot, rough road for a minute.

No one wore shirts.  All we wore was our bathing suits, with a towel over our shoulders.  The sun would bake down on our little bodies and it would feel really good!  As we rode, the breeze we created would blow over our little bare tummies, chests and arms and it felt positively delicious!

We'd do our usually break-neck pace down the main trail, then do the long skid-marks at the end, and note who got the longest skids.

Then we'd park our bikes by the pool. No one had a bike lock, you didn't need one. We'd typically arrive a few minutes before the pool opened, so we'd wait by the entrance for them to let us in.

I'd fish my dime out of the little pocket in my bathing suit and pay, then we'd head in. There were (and still are) little stone cubbies at one end, that we'd put our towels in, then we'd jump into the pool and start playing.

Yesterday, I watched a couple of young teens doing crazy, flailing dives off the low diving board, on purpose, and it reminded me the crazy antics I'd do with my friends.  We'd forget everything except how fun it was to be a little boy, swimming, splashing and playing with friends.

Then we'd get out, and lie on the deck. Our wet bodies took the simmering edge off the sun-baked cement, and it felt really nice to lay on our tummies directly on the hot, rough cement.  The sun would bake our legs, backs, shoulders and arms, and once we were dry, it would start to get too hot, so we'd jump back in the pool and do some more swimming.

Finally, when the public swim was over, we'd grab our towels and head outside the pool. We'd sit in the grass and dry off a bit in the sun, before grabbing our bikes and riding home.  The towels did not get a lot of use.  They were more ornamental, something you were expected to have and might want, but not really necessary. My bike seat would get more wet from my riding it in the rain, and I didn't mind being wet. Anyways, the sun made short work of any water on my body.

Yesterday, I noted a few differences. First, only a few children came on bikes. The ones that did had at least one that looked like a teen or came with parents, and they all had helmets.  (Given today's drivers and traffic, that's a good thing.) Most of the younger kids had adults with.  Also, the pool was a lot emptier than when I was little. We used to pack it with kids and only a handful of adults.  The really little kids would have a grown-up close on hand, but it was not uncommon for kids 8 and older to show up on their own or with other kids their age.  It's a sad commentary that it's no longer safe to do so.

Today is another hot day, so I'm going back for another swim...