One of Powassan's first ever lifeguards recalls early days of town's only outdoor pool

It was a trip down memory lane for Richard Drinkwalter on a recent visit to Lions Park in Powassan.

The park houses a ballfield, playground, tennis court and outdoor swimming pool all paid for by the Lions over the decades through numerous fundraising events.

All four sites are well used by the public but it's the pool that holds a special place for Drinkwalter. The pool was opened in 1957 and Drinkwalter and his friend Kent Harris were its first ever lifeguards.

This was also the community's first ever outdoor pool. Drinkwalter says prior to that, the town's kids would all swim at a local pond which wasn't supervised.

The local Lions wanted a better 'swimming hole' and set about to fundraise for a supervised pool.

“That (fundraising) was a big undertaking for the club in those days,” recalled Drinkwalter.

Drinkwalter's dad was a Lions member back then as was Harris's father and they were part of a club that had about 60 members.

With the fundraising money in place, the Lions had the pool built at the end of Edward Street and it was the first recreational piece of infrastructure at the site that would eventually become Lions park.

What was needed next were lifeguards.

Qualifications to become a lifeguard have become more stringent over the years and during the 1950s it was The Canadian Red Cross Society that awarded cards to people who passed swimming tests.

Drinkwalter said only a handful of people in Powassan had these cards and he and Harris were among that group.

So when the pool opened in 1957, both teens, who were 16 at the time, were asked to become lifeguards at the facility.

Just as it remains to this day, the pool was open during July and August. The difference though is there are more lifeguards present nowadays at one time. But in 1957, it was one lifeguard per shift and Drinkwalter and Harrison would spell each other off.

Drinkwalter says both he and Harrison earned $1 an hour.

“That was good money back then,” said Drinkwalter. “It helped to buy a lot of old cars”.

Drinkwalter says the one problem with the hourly wage was that it was only paid if the pool was open.

“It was closed when it rained, so we didn't get paid,” he said. “But then in the second year the salary became $30 a week and we got paid rain or shine”.

Drinkwalter spent two summers as a lifeguard at the pool while Harris only did it for the inaugural summer.

He says those were the days before sunscreen lotions and sprays came along so he got sunburned a lot during the early days of summer.

As an adult Drinkwalter also became a Lions member and was involved in many fundraisers that involved helping Lions Park to grow.

The pool's water wasn't heated in the early days but it is now and the water is also filtered. Both improvements are thanks again to the Lions who remain active to this day when it comes to improving facilities at the pool and the park in general.

At 82 Drinkwalter doesn't swim anymore but he has fond memories as a lifeguard even if it was only for two summers.

He says the kids they supervised were pretty good about obeying the rules which is much like it is in the present.

Although the Lions created Lions Park with their fundraising, once each facility was built it was turned over to the municipality which owns and maintains the site.

Rocco Frangione is a Local Journalism Initiative reporter who works out of the North Bay Nugget. The Local Journalism Initiative is funded by the Government of Canada.

Rocco Frangione, Local Journalism Initiative, The North Bay Nugget