On August 2, 1922, the hottest day in 20 years, Edmonton Mayor D. M. Duggan opened the South Side Pool, saying that nothing during his term of office gave him greater pleasure. A swimming pool had been needed for many years because of the many drownings in the North Saskatchewan River, he said.
Edmontonians celebrated the opening with swimming races and novelty events: apple and bucket races for boys; balloon races for girls; the ladies swam in nightcaps carrying candles and the men were expected to swim a pool length in their street clothes.
The pool was on the south side of the North Saskatchewan River in what was Riverside Park, and is now Queen Elizabeth Park. The Edmonton Bulletin reported: “It is delightfully situated in what is generally recognized as the city’s most beautiful park. The bath looked very inviting for the deep green of the water gave back reflections of the surrounding trees and conjured up images of sweet water nymphs disporting in forest recesses.”
Over the next 82 years, the pool continued to be loved because of its beautiful location. It was the first municipal swimming pool in Western Canada and was so popular that the city built the West End Pool and Borden Pool in 1924.
By the 1935, attendance at Edmonton’s three pools totaled 115,079. Many were children. Free swimming lessons were started in 1933 and continued, except for the war years, until 2003. In 1939, the pool was renamed Queen Elizabeth Pool in honor of the royal visit.
Attendance at the pool continued to grow, boosted by post war optimism. In 1951, the city updated the change rooms, rebuilt the tank, and provided covered bleachers. This was the last major renovation done on the pool.
During the sixties, a legend started at Queen E. when Don and Gwen Smith took their eight children to swim there. Four of the Smith children: George, Sue, Graham and Becky went on to compete in the Olympic games, and the other four swam at a national level.
In 1983, the operation of the pool was contracted out, by the city, to Harold Weissenborn, a former lifeguard. In 1991 the Friends of Queen E. Pool Society was formed. Its members dedicated to restore, renovate or replace the pool. Due to a leak, the pool was closed in August 2003, and the city is now considering plans to rebuild it on the same location.
Despite the wear and tear of aging, the Queen Elizabeth Pool continues to draw thousands of swimmers and supporters from every ward of the city. It has a unique sense of location, beauty and history that should not be forgotten.