Masters Swimming

The widespread adoption of any new pastime requires a steady supply of adherents and sound organization. Masters Swimming (MS) has benefited from both.

It is not known when or where Masters Swimming (MS) began, and while some claim it was taking place in Germany in the late 1940s, it is generally agreed that its current popularity is traceable to the first United States Masters Championship (USMC), held at the Amarillo Aquatic Club, Texas, on May 2, 1970. The brainchild of Captain Ransom J. Arthur, M.D., a San Diego navy doctor, it attracted 44 competitors. The following year, 144 participants—two of whom were Canadian—took part in the Championship and, more importantly, the Amateur Athletic Union (AAU) was persuaded to adopt MS as an activity, thereby providing the sport with a nationwide network of associations to foster it. MS experienced steady growth thereafter, and more than 50,000 swimmers now train and compete under the aegis of United States Masters Swimming (USMS), the governing body of the sport in the USA since 1981.

Global diffusion of MS required the support of a suitably empowered international agency, and thus it was that the Fédération Internationale de Natation (FINA) officially recognized the sport in 1979. FINA’s sanctioning of MS competition led to the spread of MS worldwide (80 countries, at last count). FINA also opened the sport to those whose primary goal was improved fitness rather than competition. FINA World Masters Championships take place every two years.

Masters Swimming in Canada

The growth of MS in Canada paralleled that in the United States, taking place from the bottom up—activity at the community level prompting provincial interest, which, in turn, attracted the attention of the Canadian Amateur Swimming Association (CASA). CASA nurtured the growth of MS in Canada till 1977, when Masters swimmers from eight of ten provinces met in Winnipeg and laid the groundwork for transforming CASA’s Masters Swim Committee into Masters Swim Canada (MSC), a process that eventually led to MSC’s incorporation in 1993.

Milestones include:

  • The formation of the first Masters club in Canada—the U of T Masters Swim Club—in 1972.
  • The first Masters swim meet in Canada, on January 1973, staged by the Etobicoke Aquatic Club.
  • The first Masters swim meet in Quebec (and the second in Canada), held at the Pointe Claire Aquatic Centre on February 21, 1973. The competition attracted upwards of 50 swimmers from Montreal West, Pointe Claire and Ville St. Laurent.
  • The first National Championship in Oakville, Ontario, in 1979.
  • The first Provincial Championship in Quebec, at Brossard, in 1982.

IThere are now more than 260 registered Masters Clubs in Canada (57 in Quebec), with more than 8900 members.

The Westmount YMCA Masters Swim Club

In the fall of 1992, the Montreal West Aquatic Club, one of the founding Masters clubs in Quebec, became the first MS club to practice at the Westmount YMCA—a need occasioned by the demolition of the Davis YMHA, where they had customarily trained in the winter. A few Westmounters joined in with the Montreal West swimmers, but when Montreal West resumed outdoor practices at their municipal pool the following summer, the Westmount element opted to train at the City’s outdoor pool, where they were assigned lanes for the purpose. The lap swimmers, however, objected to their presence, and notwithstanding attempts to accommodate, the Masters were obliged to curtail their outdoor practices after the second summer.

Despite the setback, these practices had attracted new swimmers—enough that the YMCA was persuaded to schedule an Earlybird practice for them in the Fall of 1994. Over the same period, the Montreal West club sustained a loss of membership. Inasmuch as the Westmount YMCA had a pool and a growing community of Masters swimmers, and Montreal West had a cadre of experienced organizers as well as a coach, the two groups merged informally and gradually over the next two years. The final step was to formalize the arrangement through the establishment of an official club. Thus it was that the Westmount Masters Swim Club came into being in 1996.

The Club flourished in the years that followed, thanks to an expanding membership and a succession of talented and committed coaches. More practices were added to accommodate a growing number of competitive and fitness swimmers. The Club’s competitive performance improved steadily, and after placing high in provincial rankings in recent years, it won the Provincial Championships in 2009, 2010 and 2011.

Robin Berlyn
January 9, 2010

Updated May 5, 2011