It’s hard for us today to imagine, but the beach was not always seen as a tranquil vacation spot. Up until the 18th century, the ocean was considered to be destructive and tempestuous, and the shoreline a dangerous place for humans. That began to change when doctors in Britain started to prescribe sea bathing as a remedy for emotional and physical ailments; a bracing dip in the ocean was viewed as a possible cure for everything from psoriasis to depression. Some doctors even recommended drinking seawater, and there were treatises on dousing different body parts for different lengths of time into the waves.
In the present day, a salty dip in an ocean is viewed as a quintessential warm-weather activity. Being near the water is considered restorative and natural, a balm for the soul. Many still swear by the curative effects of saltwater bathing, whether in the ocean or in an Epsom salt bath at home—or for Vancouverites, in Kitsilano Pool.
When the swimming attraction opened in 1931, the local papers enthused about its unusual elliptical shape and its uniqueness as a saltwater pool; it was filled each day with the tide, and staff closed the valves so it would remain full during low tide. In the beginning, the floor was sand, and the intake system allowed great swaths of seaweed (along with the occasional marine creature) into the structure along with the water. It was unheated and easy to access. On opening day, 5,000 people came to the celebration; there was a six-mile swimming race sponsored by The Vancouver Sun and a large opening ceremony. It remains the longest saltwater pool in North America.
Surprisingly, though, Kits wasn’t the only saltwater pool in Vancouver during the 1930s: Second Beach and New Brighton pools were also built as part of a job creation project during the early years of the Depression. Although those other two facilities survive today, they are no longer saltwater, leaving Kits as the only one left of its kind in the city.
In 1979, the pool was essentially rebuilt and a heating system was installed. Its 137 metres have been swam every summer since—until 2017, when it closed early in the season to begin extensive $3.3 million renovations that included replacing pumps, installing a new basin, and repairing the deck. In previous decades, the pool was topped up with water from the municipal supply in order to maintain depth; with a new system now in place, the use of additional water will be significantly lowered, resulting in saltier cannonballs and less waste.
The facility reopened on May 19, 2018, just in time for a heat wave. Kits Pool is definitely an iconic landmark of Vancouver, but part of what makes it special beyond the size, shape, and ocean contributions is the location. Bobbing in the water affords one a spectacular view of downtown, the West End, and the mountains; sand and waves in front and grass to the side, winding walking paths, and interesting people round out the scenery. For those lucky enough to live here, it’s definitely worth dodging tourists and plunging into the briny deep.
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