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Life Guarding in the 50's

During the 1950's, the Town of Winnipeg Beach would hire two Life Guards to patrol the Beach area, from July 1st to  Labour Day weekend in September. Hours of work would be, 9:00am to 6:00pm, seven days a week. The necessary employment requirements would be ..Red Cross Life Saving certificate. The area to be covered, was from the tennis courts at the foot of Hazel street, to the Water Tower at Stevenson's Point, including all of the Beach area at Government Pier, in the Channel area and the East side of the pier.

Each life Guard would spend one hour in the 12 foot Peterborough boat, powered by a 10 horse power Johnson out board motor, while the other Life Guard would walk the 2 mile stretch of sandy Beach. They would exchange positions, every hour.

Many lives were saved, four feet from the water's edge ! Children left unattended by parents would stumble or fall or be knocked over by high waves, right at the shoreline. This is what the Life Guard on foot would be looking for. On the odd occasion, an elderly swimmer would suffer a heart attack when his over heated body would encounter the sometimes, colder water.

On these sad occasions, the Life Guards would be there to Perform Artificial Respiration, what we now call....CPR, although, knowing that the person had suffered a heart attack and had already expired ! With on lookers and family present, in this kind of a situation, it would be necessary to continue to look like we were trying to save this person, until the RCMP arrived. The life Guards would take turns in performing artificial respiration, spelling each other off, until further assistance arrived. 

During the 1950's, they’re were no buoys or markers, indicating just how far the swimmers could go out into the Lake. It would be the Life Guard in the Patrol boat who monitored these situations and would literally, chase by boat, these swimmers back to shore. Quite often, a strong swimmer would head out to the middle of the Lake and forget that he/she would have to swim back to shore. These individuals would be pulled into the Patrol boat and driven back to shore, and very often, against their will ! 

One of the many attractions at Winnipeg Beach, would be the " Row Boat rentals ". On a daily basis, at the end of a long day, there would be at least, two row boats still missing by closing time of 6:00pm. The life Guards were then contacted and would have to scour the Lake, looking for these missing boats. Invariably, the persons rowing, had run out of "steam ", or would still be heading out to the middle of the Lake. It would then be necessary to tow these boats back to shore. 

This Lake can be a very unforgiving Lake, in so much as, from a nice calm water, to within twenty minutes, a churning, four to six feet high wave condition, that could swamp a normal size boat ! Although Lake Winnipeg is large, it is also very shallow, and the winds seem to blow from North to South, causing at times, treacherous conditions ! Many times, the life Guards would have to head out in these kinds of conditions, in search of missing rental boats. With no phone or radio contact between the Life Guards, one would have to rely on hand signals and good vision. 

Each day, the Life Guards would attach a red and green flag to a flagpole on the Light House on Government Pier. It was then up to the public to change the green flag to the red flag, if an emergency occurred on the Pier. The two life Guards would then rush to the Pier by boat, to investigate the problem.

On one of these occasions, we spotted the red flag and we both rushed over to the Pier. We found out that a male person paddling on an inner tube, was last seen about 200 yards off shore and then suddenly, had disappeared! We first of all, made sure the individual had not swam to shore in another location and then returned to our Boat House to call the R.C.M.P., And to retrieve our " dragging equipment ".

The dragging apparatus, consisted of a 8 foot Long, metal pipe, that had 8 short pieces of rope attached and on each piece of rope was a 3 pronged, foot long, metal hook ! Quite ugly !! This pipe, would be dropped off the back of the boat and would be dragged by a long rope, with the hopes of hooking on to anything, on the bottom of the Lake. After dragging the Lake for many hours, the RCMP called off the search. On this particular incident, the body re-surfaced, 3 days later, washing up on shore, exactly where it had disappeared, 3 days earlier!

Because this was the first drowning to occur while we were on duty ( and the only drowning in our 3 year working the Beach) we felt obligated to meet with the immediate family of the victim, to pass along our condolences and make them aware of just what had occurred and and what had been done , immediately following the incident ! 

When this type of tragedy occurred, the Life Guards would be called to present themselves to the Town Council at the next general meeting; to explain why this accident had happened where were both Life Guards when it happened, and what could we do to prevent this from happening again and why were we not in the general area, where the accident took place. This was very frustrating, considering the immense area needed to be covered, by only two life Guards ! 

Life Guards were constantly asked to locate missing children. Distraught parents would assume their child had wandered into the Lake and had drowned. While one Life Guard would painstakingly, search the waters edge, the other Life Guard would walk the Down Town area and invariably, find the missing child at McGregor’s drug store or at the Penny Arcade building. 

After a lecture to the parents from the life Guards about keeping better track of their children, all would be re-united for a happy ending ! The Life Guards also had a close relationship with the RCMP, who in the ‘50’s, had a detachment at Winnipeg Beach.

When the RCMP would be advised of problems on the Lake, one of the first things they would do, was to contact the Life Guards because we had the boat and motor that they didn’t have access to. When the Life Guards had a missing person problem, the first thing we would do was, to contact the RCMP. It was a workable arrangement. 

The Life Guards were also instrumental in helping the RCMP get rid of a very nasty group of individuals called " The Dew Drop Gang "! This gang of hoodlums would prowl the Boardwalk concessions in gangs of 4 to 12, and bump or knock out, anyone standing in their way!

They ended up terrorizing the whole of Winnipeg Beach ! A plan was devised by off duty RCMP, with the assistance of a local bunch of brothers and the Life Guards, to have this gang leave the Dance Hall, one Saturday night and supposedly go to the assistance of one of their own, outside the hall. Once outside the hall, the gang members encountered MUCH resistance and after that particular night, never returned to Winnipeg Beach! 

Some of the RCMP member’s names that come to mind are,.. Bill Duncan. Bud Stohl..Bud Wildgoose..Ron Cathcart..and of course, the legendry Long John Primrose, all not necessarily involved in the above incident, but through the ‘50’s, assigned to Winnipeg Beach Detachment.

Sometimes the Life Guards would act as mediators between local residents and summer residents. There always seemed to be bad feelings between these two groups of people and the Life Guards would always step in between, to try and calm the waters, usually, saving what might have been a nasty situation!

One of the first life saving duties, on my first year as Life Guard, was to rescue my brother and sister in law, from an over turned boating accident ! Their boat capsized in a large swell, tossing both occupants into the water, with the anchor rope wrapped around my sister in laws leg. It was necessary for me, to dive into the water from our Patrol boat, and patiently, unwrap this rope from my sister in law’s leg, while trying to keep her calm,…in 10 feet of water!

These were good times for those of us in this profession! Some of the before and after Life Guards that come to mind are,. Sven Johansen…Michael Gobuty..Dick Golfman…Billy Woods and Bobby Ackman. Some of the people involved with the Chairman of the Safety Committee for the Town of Winnipeg Beach, were,. John Shaventasky…Paul Germain… Bill McGregor ( who owned McGregor’s drug store )..Charlie Buck, who looked after the Water Tower. Bert, the Light House keeper and Bill Alexander. While on duty, we would be serenaded by the likes of,. Elvis Pressley, singing, Blue Suede Shoes and Bill Haley, singing, Rock around the Clock, music coming from the Boardwalk concessions.

We especially remember the long hot nine-hour days and also those rainy days that kept us bobbing along in rough waters, trying to stay in a straight line, as best we could. We remember the great suntans after a hot summer and the leather like feet, after walking the Beach for two months. The year after I finished Life Guarding, the Town bought a new boat and a new 18 hp motor, which now gave them two boats and motors at their disposal, until 1957.

Before the start of our working day, we would conduct swimming lessons from the Day Camp. Such names come to mind as,. Mary Keith, whose father became one of our Mayors and Jim Tomko, who also became Mayor. We remember being amongst the last great crowds of bathers at Winnipeg Beach.

We could see crowds of ten to fifteen thousand swimmers on a hot summers day. The " Fifties ", marked the end of " The Golden Years "! Thereafter, the Moonlight train was cancelled and people started going to Grand Beach, Falcon Lake and Kenora. I do remember the taking down of the Roller Coaster and that wonderful Dance Pavilion, and mourning the loss of them both! I have thoughts reminding me of the days when we were admired and appreciated for a job well done, in our efforts to make Winnipeg Beach safe and sound.

Even though, some of those jobs would entail chasing down the odd fast boater, flying along in his powerful little out board motor boat, usually, in the 5 mph zone of the main Channel of Government Pier, and anywhere else he thought he could escape our long reach. When Labour Day weekend arrived, usually the first weekend in September, the boat and motor would be put away to rest, until the next summer of events. 

By Garth Teel..Life Guard.. 1952 to 1954

Tom Evans. Life Guard..1951 to 1957