Bowring Park pool celebrates 50 years with man who was there at the start

Bob LeMessurier was responsible for training lifeguards when the pool opened and he was at the 50th anniversary celebrations Wednesday.

Pool remains one of the most popular attractions in St. John's a half century after its opening

Bob Lemessurier, who trained the first fully qualified lifeguards at the Bowring Park pool says it's amazing to be around for the 50th anniversary of the facility. (CBC)

Bob LeMessurier remembers the opening of the Bowring Park pool quite well, even five decades later. He was the man responsible for training its lifeguards when it opened in 1968.

"In those days a lot were hired because of who they knew rather than what they knew," Lemessurier said of the crop of lifeguards he put through training, only to discover that just two of the crew of eight or 10 could actually swim well enough to do the job. 

He was quickly tasked with finding new lifeguards with the skills to fit the needs of the pool, which remained a popular summer attraction in St. John's for locals and visitors alike.

"That's the first time, to my knowledge, that we actually had fully qualified lifeguards for the pool."

Visitors to the park were excited to get a piece of the pool's birthday cake. (CBC)

A lot has changed in the half century since then, and the latest of those changes was the source of anticipation for those — including LeMessurier — who gathered at the park Wednesday to celebrate the pool's 50th anniversary.

A new waterslide, installed at the pool this spring, is set to open any day now, said Tanya Haywood, deputy city manager for the department of community services.

The park's new waterslide, installed in the spring, should open any day. (CBC)

"We suspect it's going to be very popular," Haywood said of the slide, which will open a year after the park unveiled its new deck and poolhouse last summer.

The park's current lifeguards agree.

"I know the kids are really excited, they ask us every day when it's going to open," said Lydia Slade, who is working at the pool over the summer. 

'We're so proud of it'

The new attraction is part of the pool's great history, Haywood said, which will be commemorated in the pool house with two new photo panels depicting the history of swimming in South Brook at Bowring Park, before the pool opened, and after.

Tanya Haywood, deputy city manager of community services with the city, says Bowring Park is 'truly a gem in the city of St. John's.' (CBC)

"It is certainly one of the more popular attractions we have here," she said of the pool, which can have upwards of 500 swimmers on a hot summer day.

"We're so proud of it and we're anxious for another 50 years."

According to the city's recreation supervisor, Leslie White, well over one million swimmers have visited the pool over its lifetime.

Bowring Park lifeguards Lydia Slade and Ben Dornan hold the two new photo panels, depicting the history of swimming at the park, that will hang in the poolhouse. (CBC)

White told the crowd at the event that working as a pool attendant and lifeguard at Bowring Park was her first summer job, more than 20 years earlier. 

"There's a lot of generations that have swam here," she said.

"It's pretty cool to hear their stories."

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