Maynard van der Galien
It’s interesting talking to elderly people who lived beside a river or lake all their life and never learned to swim. I remember chatting with some elderly farmers who said they worked all week from dawn to dusk when they were young and they didn’t have time to go to the river. The banks to the water were too steep. The water was too fast-flowing. They weren’t allowed to go swimming on a Sunday. Those were reasons given, which I thought were pretty lame excuses.
When I was a boy in the 1950s, people didn’t expose their skin and wear shorts and short-sleeved shirts. We immigrants were different. I have some family photos of that era showing my sisters and I in short pants, no shirt on and in wooden shoes. My father was different too. He wore a light-coloured short-sleeved shirt in the summer. He was cool compared to the neighbouring men who wore long underwear and thick outer clothes. That could also be a factor why folks didn’t do swimming — exposing white skin.
Come to think of it, the farm kids I hung out with in our neighbourhood didn’t go swimming in the river that ran along our country road. We fished in one favourite spot and we certainly didn’t go into the water to cool off on a hot summer evening. The reason being was that the village of Eganville (where I grew up) had their dump at the edge of the river just up and across from where we fished. You could see the trucks dumping their load and hear the cans rattling down off the truck. It was a large dump area and had been in use for years.
Pollution wasn’t a concern back then. We were taught in school that if water was polluted coming out of a town or village and it flowed a few miles over a limestone bottom, the water would clean itself and be pure again.
It puzzles me why so many people drown when they are on or in the water. Year after year there are people who drown needlessly. Some fall out of boats while fishing or hunting. Some are pulled under by a strong current or swept away in rough water. People die kayaking. Canoes overturn. People drown mostly because they don’t wear a lifejacket.
A good question is why are people with little or no swimming ability in the water? The only ones who should be are those who are learning to swim with a life guard or an instructor nearby and those who know how to swim.
In the summer of 2017, a 15-year-old Toronto boy drowned while on a school outing in Algonquin Provincial Park. It is alleged the Toronto teacher ignored safety rules in planning and carrying out the trip and allowed the boy who could not swim to go in the water without a life-jacket. Court was told the teen would not have drowned if he had worn a life jacket.
I remember reading about three engineering students who all drowned one August day some years ago. They didn’t realize that the water dropped off suddenly. One walked in the water and steps in the drop. A friend, who can’t swim either, tried to save him. He drowned. The third non-swimmer went in to help and he also lost his life.
Would they go skydiving without a parachute? Would they go racing without a helmet and protective clothing? Why be in unknown water without a lifejacket?
I have a cottage on a small lake. It’s a miracle that no one has ever died boating on the lake. Just last week I watched three guys in a boat standing up with a fishing rod in their hand as the boat was slowly moving along the shore about 100 feet out in deep water. No one wore a lifejacket.
One young teen girl tears around on a jet ski on weekends in the deep water. No parent or grandparent ever seems to ground the kid for doing stunt driving and the reckless use of a motor boat. She does the water stunts over and over.
Learn to swim when you’re young. It might save your life and the lives of would-be rescuers.
Maynard van der Galien is a Renfrew-area farmer and agriculture columnist. His parents took the family to a sandy beach on a nearby lake for a day-long outing for many summers when he was young. He learned to swim in shallow water.