Written by Fred Hume, UBC Athletics Historian, and Katie Sloan
(Originally written for a 2017 exhibit at the UBC Alumni Centre)
100 Years of Swimming at UBC
UBC’s varsity swimming history is nearly as old as the University itself. A University Swimming Club was first founded in 1916 and held its practices at Chalmers Church, now the Holy Trinity Anglican Church, located at West 12 and Hemlock Street. The club was exclusively a women’s club until 1922 when student Celmer Ross put together a men’s team.
By 1928, both UBC swim teams had joined ranks and were considered to be formidable competitors. Under the leadership of coaches James Hill and Frank Penwell, the swim teams moved their practices to the newly opened Crystal Pool in Downtown Vancouver. The teams were coached by Percy Norman, and later Doug Whittle, Peter Luztig and Max Howell from the 1930s through the 1950s. During this period, UBC won nine Northwest/Evergreen Conference Championships, and saw swimming greats Elaine Tanner, Mary Stewart, and future Canadian Prime Minister John Turner.
In 1959-1960, UBC won its first Canada West University Championship. The legendary Jack Pomfret became the Head Coach of the Swim teams in 1962, a position he held until 1978. Under his leadership, UBC won its first National Championship in 1964-65. During Pomfret’s tenure, UBC won a second National Championship as well as seven Canada West University championship titles.
In 1978-79, Jack Kelso became the Head Coach of the UBC swimming teams, while swimming alumnus Don Liebermann became coach of the UBC Diving team. Under the guidance of these two coaches, UBC would go on to win two National titles and seven Canada West titles. Kelso coached until 1990 and mentored swimming greats such as Wendy Hogg and Turlough O’Hare.
In 1990-91, Tom Johnson took the reigns beginning his Hall of Fame career as Head Coach of UBC Swimming as well as coaching with Canada’s Olympic swimming teams. In 1993-94, with swimmers such as O’Hare, Kevin Draxinger and Sarah Evanetz, UBC won the first of nineteen National Championships under Johnson’s coaching.
UBC’s “Decade of Dominance” (1998-2007) saw UBC’s swim teams win ten consecutive men’s and women’s National championships and produced 42 national competitors including Draxinger, Evanetz, Jessica Deglau, Marianne Limpert, Mark Versfeld, Brian Johns, Brent Hayden and Kelly Stefanyshyn.
Since 2006-07, under coaches Derrick Schoof, and then later Steven Price and Brian Johns, UBC has won twelve more National titles and produced national level competitors including Olympian Annamay Pierse, Emily Overholt, Erika Seltenreich-Hodgson, Yuri Kisil, and Markus Thornmeyer.
With UBC’s swim teams sweeping the 2016-17 Canada West championships, and the new Aquatic Centre opening in January 2017, the future of swimming at UBC looks to continue the school’s amazing legacy of excellence!
Goodbye to Some Old Friends: History of UBC Pools
UBC has a long history with its swimming facilities. Interest in building a pool for the university were expressed as early as 1920 as UBC was preparing to make the move from its Fairview campus to its current Point Grey location. However, it was not until Vancouver was chosen to host the 1954 British Empire and Commonwealth Games did the talk turn serious. After much debate and deliberation, UBC was selected to host the swimming and diving events for the Games. The pool, which would come to be known as the Empire Pool, was designed by architects Sharpe & Thompson, Berwick, Pratt, who had also designed the newly opened War Memorial Gym. Empire Pool was constructed by Paddock Pools of Los Angeles and Marwell Construction of Vancouver at a cost of $270,000. The Pool opened in June 1954, just in time for the start of the Games with Prince Philip at poolside.
After the Commonwealth Games concluded, UBC took on the daily management of Empire Pool. However, by the early 1970s, pool use reached its maximum capacity. Open from 6 am to 10 pm daily in the summer, Empire Pool hosted everything from varsity swim practice, to community swim, to recreational activities such as canoeing, synchronized swimming and scuba diving, as well as instructional activities such as lifeguard training. Further compounding the issue was the fact that the Pool could only open for limited times during the winter months as the proposed enclosure of the Pool never materialized.
Under the leadership of distinguished swimming coach Jack Pomfret, his associates, and the UBC student body, money was raised to build a new indoor pool facility, to be called the UBC Aquatic Centre. The Centre was designed by local architects Carlberg Jackson Partners, and opened September 27, 1978.
The two pools served UBC and surrounding communities until February 2014, when a critical system failure forced the closure of the Empire Pool, nearly 60 years after it first opened. The Pool was the last British Empire and Commonwealth Games facility in Vancouver to be dismantled. Soon after this decision, it was decided to replace the aging Aquatic Centre with a new pool facility. Designed by local architects MacLennan Jaunkalns Miller + Acton Ostry, the new facility opened in January 2017.
UBC Swimming Timeline