When I was a child in the 1970s, on a hot summer day I would roller skate to the local swimming pool with my beach towel draped around my neck. Once at the pool I would pay the quarter, or whatever the minimal cost was, and I would enjoy some time splashing, swimming, and cooling off. Most of us have similar memories from our childhood.
As a child, I never considered things like the actual cost to operate the public swimming pool, I didn’t consider the process of recruiting qualified lifeguards in order for the pool to be open to the public, I wouldn’t have understood that the pocket change I dropped into the box to gain admission didn’t actually cover the cost of my use of the public swimming pool, public subsidization of swimming pools or other such facilities had yet to enter my consciousness. All I knew was that on a hot summer day, there was a virtual oasis just minutes from home where I could dive, swim, splash, and have some fun.
Meaford’s Blue Dolphin Pool is older than I am. It has been bringing the same joy I experienced as a child for nearly 60 years, and though the facility is certainly showing its age, and is in need of a significant rehabilitation if it is to continue operating into the future, it is a facility that is much loved, and certainly appreciated by many residents, whether you send your children there for swimming lessons, or if you enjoy a family day in the water during the hot summer months. The reality, however, is that the typical lifespan of an outdoor swimming pool is typically 30-40 years, and as far back as 2010 I have heard regular discussions at council about the aging facility and the significant investment required in order for the pool to continue to operate into the future.
When news began circulating recently that a lack of certified lifeguards, a shortage that is being experienced in communities across the country, could jeopardize the 2023 swimming season, many residents expressed concern.
Over the past few years there has been significant reporting across the country about the lack of certified lifeguards, and it is small communities that are hit the hardest.
As was noted during Monday’s council meeting, Meaford has lost some of its lifeguards to larger communities with deeper pockets, who are able to pay significantly more and often can offer year-round employment if they also have indoor swimming facilities.
But for a small town with a nearly 60-year-old outdoor swimming pool, with a relatively small budget allowing it to operate for just a few months each summer, finding nine qualified lifeguards in the midst of a national shortage is indeed a challenge.
Though we humans love to find fault, someone to blame, someone to point a finger at, in this situation it really has been out of the hands of council, out of the hands of staff. The national shortage of lifeguards began in the late stages of the pandemic, and the issue has only worsened over the past two years. Google newspapers across the country, and you are bound to find articles about the lack of certified lifeguards, and the rising cost for those lifeguards thanks to competition among municipalities hoping to secure any lifeguards they can find. Larger communities with deeper pockets are grumbling less perhaps, but they have still experienced challenges in finding certified lifeguards.
During Monday’s council meeting, Council approved a plan to enter into an agreement with the Owen Sound/Grey-Bruce YMCA. The agreement will see the YMCA provide the lifeguards, operate our pool, and collect the fees. Not the most ideal of situations, it will cost the municipality a little bit more, but it will mean that the pool can open this summer, if a few weeks later than planned.
When I was a child, I would often hear adults say that ‘beggars can’t be choosers’, and the lifeguard shortage has seen many communities grappling with the reality of being unable to operate their public swimming pools, but thankfully, Meaford had an option. And though it might not be the best of options, beggars can’t be choosers, and at the very least we can get through this 2023 season with minimal adverse impact on users of the facility.