History of the Downtown Swim Club
The Downtown Swim Club is a Toronto Masters swim club founded in 1987 and registered with Masters Swimming Ontario and International Gay and Lesbian Aquatics (IGLA). Through IGLA, Downtown Swim Club is associated with the Federation of Gay Games (FGG). Downtown Swim Club is also a member of GLISA, the sanctioning body for the Outgames.
The Mission of the Downtown Swim Club
- To maximize the accessibility of Downtown Swim Club activities - in terms of pool location, practice times, number of practices and affordability.
- To provide a balanced program, appealing equally to men and women, recreational, fitness and competitive swimmers, and providing both exercise and social activities.
- To provide an environment fostering improved competitive skills for those interested in masters swim meets.
- To provide a positive gay and lesbian environment.
The Downtown Swim Club welcomes all levels of swimmers who have in common not how fast they are, but how hard they work (or how much fun they have!) while swimming.
Downtown Aquatics Corporation
The Downtown Aquatics Corporation is a not-for-profit, volunteer-run organization, created on August 26th 2004 to coordinate the activities of its three component clubs, the Downtown Swim Club (est. 1987), Triggerfish Waterpolo (est. 2001) and Breathless Sychronized Swimming (est. 2007). Through these Clubs, the Downtown Aquatics Corporation strives to promote aquatic sports in Toronto in the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender communities, and support activities of mutual interest including, but not limited to, financial management, pool rental, club promotion, social activities and grant applications.
The seed of the idea that was to become the Downtown Swim Club was planted when Gerry Oxford and Bill Eadie participated in the Gay Games in San Francisco in August 1986. There we met swimmers from organized Gay Masters clubs on the west coast. Why not a gay Masters swim club in Toronto, we said? At the same time, Gerry's friend Brian Pronger expressed interest in starting a running group. So we placed an ad in XTRA (Toronto's gay newspaper) to determine interest in gay swim and running groups. The meeting attracted 80 - 100 persons to a tiny 3rd floor meeting room at 519 Church; 80% of the attendees claimed to be interested in swimming. Most, it turns out, thought we meant a bit of dog paddle with martinis on the pool deck, so those persons didn't make it to even the first workout. The running club was initially called Running Wilde, and is now FrontRunners. So Toronto's lesbian/gay swim and running clubs are both exactly the same age.
As a result of this encouraging first meeting, the following Tuesday - February 10, 1987 - about 20 of us simply showed up at Jimmie Simpson Pool, and the Downtown Swim Club (DSC) had its first workout during adult length swim. Who knew that we needed to apply in advance for a pool permit? To restore some order to the adult length swim program, the pool manager quickly approved separate pool times for our club. For several years, DSC practiced late on Wednesdays - from 9:45 to 11pm - until we finally negotiated an earlier time. Initially, the club was so popular that we actually had a waiting list for new members, and had to limit practices to a maximum of 35 swimmers. However, there were also times during the first several years when practices were poorly attended; Gerry Oxford recalls remember coaching as few as 6 people occasionally.
Our swim practices have always been at Jimmie Simpson Pool, except when that pool was closed for urgent ceiling repairs in 1993 and 1996. The club also swam at the outdoor, unheated Riverdale Pool in 1987 and 1988; at Jarvis Collegiate in 1993 (conveniently located in the gay villiage, but we stopped swimming here when the school board imposed hefty pool rental fees) and at Matty Eckler (formerly the Pape Pool) starting in 1993. In 1996, we swam at McCormick and North Toronto Pools while Jimmie Simpson Pool was closed for ceiling repairs.
Club Name and Logo
Our club has always been highly social with emphasis on dining and chatter. So, after swimming at Jimmie Simpson Pool the original members would go to a local Queen Street bar / restaurant called 13 Busy Street. (Hence, the name "Busy Downtown Queens" was originally suggested as a club name, by that rascal-about-town, and non-swimmer, Gerald Hannon. Queens? Well, our membership was all male at that time.) However, back in the conservative 1980's, some found this name too provocative and overt. Because of this, "Downtown Swim Club" was adopted as our 'interim' name and was used in our first newsletter in May 1987. Many have grown accustomed and perhaps even fond of this moniker. Every few years, someone voices a desire to change the club name, but to date no one has dreamed up one that everyone likes.
You may be interested in the origin of our sea horse logo, versions of which appear on this web site, our banner, team t-shirts and our newsletter, Wet Scream!. Myles Pearson and Jake Peters were experimenting with some paint and a large roll of canvas on Myles's kitchen floor and our banner, depicting DSC's original sea horse logo, was born one evening in 1989. When asked what inspired them to choose this symbol, they responded "... we wanted to differentiate Toronto from several other IGLA teams that have fish logos. Seahorses are tiny, curvaceous, aquatic, mystical, very romantic creatures. There is an interesting role reversal in that the male carries the fertilized eggs to maturity in a pouch."
To start, DSC's operations were entirely volunteer; both coaches and lifeguards freely volunteered their time. Initially, the club was run casually as a collective. A more formal structure was established in September 1990, headed by male and female co-chairs. Throughout the life of the club, many Downtown Swim Club members have volunteered to keep financial and membership records, obtain pool times or organize social events.
In February 1989, we started paying for lifeguards. The club initiated a third weekly practice in March 1991 and hired professional coaches starting in November 1992: Emil Dimitrov, John Grootveld, Ron Watson, Garth Norman, Konstantin Danilov and Mattie Nurklik. During the summer of 1994, we tried a fourth weekly practice at Trinity Rec Centre. Annual membership income grew from $1,300 in 1988 to $8,100 in 1996.
In July 2001, DSC hosted the 12th IGLA (International Gay and Lesbian Aquatics) competitions. Two years of planning by club members produced the biggest IGLA ever with over 900 participants - including 23 divers and 10 water polo teams. New swim records included five individual Canadian records and 114 IGLA records. Members of DSC set new Ontario times for five individual events and two relays. Social highlights of the four-day weekend were a reception at City Hall, a boat cruise on Lake Ontario, dozens of hosted dinners, and an awards banquet and dance at historic Fort York.
IGLA 2001 ended up being a huge catalyst for club growth. The swim club membership grew, seeing increased practice times (from 3 to 5 times per week), an increasingly professional coaching team, and swimming at larger venues (namely, the beautiful University of Toronto pool.) Just as exciting was the emergence of our water polo team, the Toronto Triggerfish
Both Men and Women
The number of women swimmers has varied from year to year. In September 1994, there were 13 paid up women members of the DSC; the highest number ever in the history of the club and making up approximately 20% per cent of total membership at that time. Our women members have been among Downtown Swim Club's most active volunteers, organizing 3 of 6 swim meets. We're versatile; in 1995/6 DSC had two female co-chairs; and the following year there were two male co-chairs.
Over the years, Downtown Swim Club activities have included a picnic at Hanlan's Point every summer since 1987; a yearly Christmas party with gift exchange (Santa has come on two ocassions) and many potlucks - some with written invitations and some featuring hot tub encounters. We have acknowledged the efforts of Downtown Swim Club members, at recognition nights which occurred in September 1987, May 1994 and May 1995. We've shown off at a swim wear fashion show at the Club Baths in May 1993 and again at Badlands Bar in June 1994. Other club outings have been to Wild Water Kingdom, movies, theatre and bike trips. Downtown Swim Club held six swimathons between 1987 and 1992, to raise funds for Casey House, Fife House and Toronto Counselling Centre for Lesbian and Gays. In 1996, we raised money and created the Myles Pearson trophy to be awarded at our annual swim meet.
Several Downtown Swim Club members practiced synchro in 1990-1991, under the direction of a former national coach. Downtown Swim Club has swum at "fun" swim meets with Hart House and YMCA Masters (June 1987, March 1989, April 1990, March 1993 and October 1993). We held our annual swim meet at Harbord Collegiate (1991, 1992), at U of T Athletic Centre (1993, 1995, 1996 and 2004) and Riverdale Collegiate (1998). Downtown Swim Club swimmers have competed at IGLA meets or the Gay Games every year since 1989. Downtown Swim Club's Pink Flamingo entries have sometimes featured elaborate costumes and other times have been very conceptual. Who can forget the crowd's reaction to our Jungle Fever routine, in Montreal, in 1993?
DSC has made a splash at many Pride Days. In addition to our information table, Ken and Barbie gave swim lessons in their own wading pool in 1990. In 1991, mermaids floated up Yonge Street, in rickshaws pulled by hunky centurions followed by a "pool" of blue balloons. 1992 found valkyries astride giant seahoses, followed by a frisky herd, blowing bubbles and waving multi-coloured seahorse placards. Our last major Pride Day effort was 1994, with a motorized float in the parade and a swim mannequin at the information booth.
DSC welcomes many new members each year, but there also many who have swum for several years. The swim coach and fellow swimmers in your lane provide encouragement and motivation to try and complete the swim workout, but there is always time to yak and kibitz between lengths, while hanging onto the end of the pool, or afterwards in the locker room. We've made many good friends here, find that everyone tries to provide a friendly, supportive environment.. and we hope that Downtown Swim Club remains so for many more years.