Summer Fun in Edmonton: A History of Outdoor Pools

The History Hunters summer daycamp is happening at the Archives this week and it has me thinking about what kids do in Edmonton in the summer and what it’s like to grow up here (I’m also partially inspired by the Archives Society of Alberta theme for last year’s Archives Week; Growing Up Albertan). My idea of summer is biased towards swimming as I spent as much time in water as I could as a child, and it seems an appropriate focus given the rich history of Edmonton’s pools and with the re-opening of the Queen Elizabeth Pool in its new location.

There are a number of excellent wading pools in Edmonton today (at City Hall and on the Legislature Grounds for example). The Archives has several photographs of early wading pools.

Wading pool in Borden Park in 1913
Wading pool c.1920, I love the sailboats!!
Wading pool c.1920, I love the sailboats!!

Edmonton really shone when it came to pools however (and still does with facilities like the new Terwillegar Community Rec Centre). In 1917 a pool was created in Mill Creek Ravine by building a dam across the creek because “Ponds and small lakes in and about the City are not suitable for bathing purposes, and the river, as past experience has proven, is very dangerous.” (RG 8.10, Special Committee Reports, File 62.)

The first full swimming pool was the Queen Elizabeth Pool (aka South Side, Riverside, and Tipton Park) which opened on August 2, 1922.  Borden Park Pool (East End) and Oliver Pool (West End) quickly followed; both opened in 1924. There was a need for them (as noted above) due to the lack of ‘watering holes’ in the area and the dangers of swimming in the North Saskatchewan River.  Looking at the newspapers of the day, Edmontonians were obviously very proud of these pools and attendance was high. Despite this the pools ran at a deficit but the City Engineer justified this in a December 1927 memo:

These Pools have become a very important part of Edmonton’s summer recreation facilities and as a result the standard of Swimming and diving which has been developed among the younger people is remarkable, and in addition to this, the benefits of health and contentment in my opinion, far outweigh any small deficit.

Admission in 1927 was .10¢ for juniors, .05¢ on school days, and .25¢ for adults. Season passes for juniors was $5 and $9 for adults. A 1935 newspaper article reports that in 1934 the combined attendance of the three pools was 115,079 of which 102,666 were juniors. According to the municipal census, the population of Edmonton in 1934 was 79,773.

The innovative design of the pools was recognized in the April 1925 Municipal Improvements Magazine. They particularly admired the filtration system, the way concrete was used, and the long term thinking that went into the design as careful consideration was given to minimizing the damage from frost heaving. The Archives has the original blueprints for all three pools.

The new pools did have some controversy at first. A July 14, 1924 City Council meeting heard a delegation lead by Mrs. P. S. Poston, Ernie Walker and Rich. Cross “protesting against the order excluding colored people from the swimming pools.” The order restricting access had been put in place by the commissioners in 1923. Council ruled “That the order excluding colored people from the Swimming Pools be rescinded and the same rules apply to colored as to white people.” (I took these quotes from the City Council meeting minutes. Also, a copy of the letter the delegation sent to Council was printed in the July 12, 1924 edition of the Bulletin).

This photograph is from the 1920s but we’re not sure which pool it is as they were all based on the same plan.  I like the fence crenellations.
This photograph is from the 1920s but we’re not sure which pool it is as they were all based on the same plan. I like the fence crenellations.
This 1927 swimming certificate gives an idea of how swimming was taught in Edmonton
This 1927 swimming certificate gives an idea of how swimming was taught in Edmonton

A May 26, 1936 article reported on the ongoing debate about whether men should be allowed to bare their chests while swimming or wear full suits like the one worn by the man on the diving board in the photograph beow. At the time, full suits were required.

The Borden Park roller coaster seen in the background was built in 1915 and dismantled in 1935 due to safety concerns. We have several photographs of the pool with the roller coaster in the background and it does look a bit rickety. The Archives has a 1929 contract to lease the land “in occupation by a certain Roller Coaster erected therein being approximately One Hundred Feet by Four Hundred and Seventy-five feet.” (Contract #1384, July 17, 1929).

Borden Park Pool c. 1932
Borden Park Pool c. 1932

Beginning in the mid-1980s the City planned on closing the aging Queen Elizabeth Pool due to the rising costs of maintaining it (let alone upgrading it). The importance of the pool to Edmontonians can be seen by how the community rallied again and again to save it until cracks and leaks finally forced its closure in 2004. However, with help from the Federal Government, a new Queen Elizabeth Pool is now open in a new location in Kinsmen Park.


Of course, this is just scratching the surface of summer fun in Edmonton. I didn’t even look at summer camps, church events, or the very popular Klondike Days. I had a hard time choosing photographs because there are so many great ones. If you’d like to see more, go to our online catalogue and search using keywords like summer, pool, playground, etc. Better yet, if you can, come to the Archives. We have even more photographs to look at in our reference room. And please feel free to share your summer memories through the comments section. On a side note, I have noticed that many early Edmonton photographs have a dog in them somewhere, see if you can spot them in the photographs I’ve put up today (there are two).

Unless otherwise noted, information in this post came from the City of Edmonton Archives clippings files.

City of Edmonton Archives

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