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History of the Downtown Swim Club

Origins

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 turned 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 LGBT 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."

    

Growing

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.


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 companion water polo team, the Toronto Triggerfish. 

The Downtown Aquatics Corporation (DAC) was created on August 26th 2004 as a not-for-profit, volunteer-run organization.  This corporation was a natural outgrowth of the organization that had been formed to host the IGLA competitions and was essential to coordinate the activities of the three component clubs, the Downtown Swim Club (est. 1987), Triggerfish Waterpolo (est. 2001) and Breathless Synchronized Swimming (est. 2007).  Through these Clubs, the Downtown Aquatics Corporation has been very active in promoting aquatic sports in Toronto for the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender communities.   While the  Synchro Club was suspended in 2011 due to a lack of membership,  the swim and waterpolo clubs have flourished with the success of these clubs evident in their membership growth.  With the incoming revisions to the Ontario Not For Profit Corporations Act,  in June 2013, the Downtown Swim Club elected to leave the DAC to form its own corporation - Downtown Swim Club - to build on the successes of the past while simplifying the operations and management of the club.

Social

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. In more recent years the DSC has worked with OutSport Toronto at Pride events, joining in the collective support of LGBT sports.

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.

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