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The Old Swimming Hole

by Dorothy Garbutt

Manitoba Pageant, September 1956

This article was published originally in Manitoba Pageant by the Manitoba Historical Society on the above date. We make it available here as a free, public service.

Please direct inquiries to webmaster@mhs.mb.ca.

We didn't have concrete lined swimming pools with tiled surfaces and swimming instructors back in the old days, but somehow we never missed them because we had the old swimming hole. It was on the Red river in Selkirk, at the foot of our property, just where the grassy bank sloped towards a gently pebbled shore and the river followed its curved and verdant shoreline in long remembered beauty.

In those days the summers were long and hot and the cool waters of the swiftly flowing river were a goasend to us. Water was fairly safe too, as modern sewage systems hadn't polluted the river and it was all right to swim in. Or to paddle in, as I did, for Mother didn't consider it quite nice for little girls to wear bathing suits - even the voluminous and itchy wool lustre suits we sweltered in - not quite nice, especially when little boys were around. Of course, it was all very well for little boys to go in swimming and splash away up to their middles, but the most daring thing I could indulge in was to hoist my bloomers away up over my skirts and wade in past my knees. And if I fell - well - heaven help me, no more wading for the rest of the week.

We had a beautiful rock at that swimming hole in Selkirk, big and wide and broad and it lay only a foot or two off shore so that half a dozen of us could sit on it, rosette fashion, with our legs dangling in the surrounding water. Little water flies darted like lightning around our feet, and bees, heady with honey from the sweet clover which grew in such sweet profusion on the bank, would venture out as far as the rock on exploratory missions and then there would be such a squealing and slapping and slipping and often a howl as someone was stung.

But best of all when the water was calm you could see clear down to the pebbles on the river bed, and watch the tiny crabs and schools of frantic minnows race like dark shadows in the water below. Sometimes a tug, like the "Granite Rock" or the "Marble H.", with a lumber or gravel barge attached, or its own cargo of fish from Lake Winnipeg, would chug around the bend by Rowley's farm. And as it passed we would wave and holler to the hands on board and then wait in exquisite anticipation for the backwash to reach us.

The finest backwash was from the "Keenora", the largest boat on the river, as it steamed majestically along with its decks lined with supercilious city passengers on the first leg of their holiday journey to Norway House. We didn't wave to them, not by a juzful. I'm very much afraid that it was a point of honour with us to stick our tongues out at them - away out.

Yes, you can have your public baths and parks' swimming pools, but it's dollars to donuts they can't beat the fun we had as kids, the Prudens and Hawses, the Morrisons and Maudie Mitchell and I at the old swimming hole on the Red river in Selkirk back when.

Page revised: 30 June 2009

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