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Pools on Point: Vancouver

If the definitive history of Canadian competitive swimming is ever written, the 6000 block between University and Student Union Boulevards on the campus of the University of British Columbia will deserve a chapter, if not more. This relatively compact plot in Vancouver has been or is now home to three aquatic centers …

  • The 1954 Empire Pool constructed for the British Empire and Commonwealth Games

  • The 1978 UBC Aquatic Centre

  • … and now, the 2017 UBC Aquatic Centre

In spite of my physical therapist’s orders to stay out of the water (I’m in shoulder rehab right now), I could not pass up the opportunity I had this past weekend to get a ‘sneak preview swim’ at the #newUBCPool. Before I swam in the sparkling new waters, as all three pools will co-exist for only a brief time longer, I walked around, snapped a few pics and offer up this little homage..

1954 Empire Pool – the one that got away

If you want a great photo retrospective on this pool in its prime and through the years, check out Scout Magazine’s 2014 article. Judging by the fencing and construction equipment surrounding this once proud pool …

… I’d say you better get to Point Grey quickly if you want one last look at this. I barely missed swimming in this pool and now I’ll never get the chance. I knew of the pool’s existence, but it had already closed when I dropped my oldest daughter off at UBC at the end of the summer of 2014.

1978 UBC Aquatic Centre

I made sure not to miss this one on that 2014 trip and caught a great picture after lap swimming had ended during a rare, quiet moment in this cavernous and funky facility:

Though it was definitely showing its age, I loved the creative design of the pool which offered a variety of configurations for the mixed competitive and community uses.

This facility was the home to Canada's best university swimming team (unbiased Thunderbird dad here) and many of Canada’s greatest swimmers of the late 20th and early 21st century: the only Canadian swimmers to set world records in the 21st century (Annamay Pierse and Brian Johns), numerous National record holders and multiple Olympians. The annual Mel Zajac International meet held each May at this pool has a list of meet records by a veritable who’s who of the global swimming elite (e.g., Coughlin, Lochte, Cochrane, Vollmer, etc.).

More personally to this father, this was the pool where my oldest daughter found the perfect team and teammates, taking her swimming to a different level and making friendships that will last a lifetime.

2017 UBC Aquatic Centre

I’ve been fortunate to sample some of Canada’s great aquatic centres – from the Toronto Pan Am Sports Centre to Edmonton’s Kinsmen Aquatic Centre to the Saanich Commonwealth Place north of Victoria. The UBC Aquatic Centre continues this great Canadian tradition of building aquatic facilities that double as both world-class competition sites and exceptional community-use pools.

In the #newUBCPool, there are four aquatic spaces laid out perfectly inside the airy, light-filled, bright-white facility: the 50 metre competition pool (seen below), a 25 meter training pool & diving well, a purely recreational play pool with a lazy river and other kid-friendly water features, and, the pièce de résistance, the 30-40 person hot tub!

The designers of the facility seem to have thought of everything, with classrooms, saunas, change rooms and guard facilities around the perimeter of the building. Beyond what you can see, staying true to Vancouver’s conservation focus, rainwater harvesting will supply much of the centre’s water needs.

This will be a pool I plan to come back to many times in my life. Hopefully, soon Masters Swimming Canada will choose to host their National Championships here (hint! hint!).

I'll close with these images, the three logos aligned to these three historic pools. I am certain the 1978 logo will go as that building will come down soon, but I do wonder if they will keep the UBC Logo on the exterior of the War Memorial Gym overlooking the Empire Pool? Let's just hope that the #newUBCPool lives more than the 60 years of the Empire Pool to serve many aquatic generations to come!

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