Posted by: Kathy Krywicki
In 1946, Evening Citizen Staff Writer Cameron James relates the “mostly incidental” story of the Brighton Beach Aquatic Club of Ottawa South. From the Ottawa Citizen August 10, 1946:
When members of the Ottawa South Community Association decided to develop Brighton Beach about 25 years ago, it was intended to have it principally as a bathing spot for the younger people of that section of Ottawa South, east of Bank street. Now it is the most popular bathing rendezvous in Ottawa for people from all parts of the city. On a recent Sunday, as many as 3000 persons visited the beach.
Actually it is not a beach in the popular interpretation of the word, for there is no sand running up from the edge of the river—the Rideau river at the end of Brighton and Fentiman avenues—but a wide, deep stretch of well kept lawn with plenty of benches and in one corner a big sand box for the little children to play in.
The property has a high, stout wire fence, the severeness of which is relieved by a variety of shrubs. At the northern end of the lawn are buildings contains the dressing rooms, the canteen, toilet rooms and bicycle racks. There are four lifeguards employed by the beach, as well as canteen and check room staff. J.A. Dulude, superintendent of playgrounds for the city, has told George N. Tompkins, president of the Brighton Beach Club, that he considers the beach a model which might well be copied by civic beaches.
However, the appearance of the beach today is vastly different from what it was in 1918 when the late Thomas Brewer decided to make its improvement one of the projects the Ottawa South Community Association, a body of which Mr. Brewer was one of the original founders.
Until the association took an interest in it, the beach had been little more that a swimming hole which owed its location to an underground spring, which besides providing excellent drinking water, also served to cool and partially clear the muddy waters of the Rideau at the point. In 1921 a bathing shack was erected for the ladies. The men continued to change in the bushes. By 1923 the association’s project had expanded to such an extent that it became necessary to form a separate organization and the Brighton Beach Aquatic Club came into being. Two years later the club was granted a charter and was well on the way to becoming the popular beach it is today.
Sometime in the early twenties, the large frame building containing the dressing rooms was built by the men of the community under the supervision of two professional carpenters. Among the workers during the building were Charles H. Bland, chairman of the Civil Service Commission; Dr. MacGregor Easson, Chief Inspector of Public Schools, for Ottawa; the late Capt. Eddie Phillips, a well known Ottawa football star of former years; Ronald MacNabb, James Carruthers, Frank Boomer, Frank Kennedy and many other popular residents in Ottawa South. Among others who have been actively associated with the development of the beach are George Pushman, C. Fraser Elliot, Earl Wilson, Capt. Harry S. Naylor, R. L. Archibald, George Cole, Edward Grand, George Hopper, Norman Fee, S.C. Paynter and H.H. Short to mention only a few.
Brighton Beach has had its notable occasions. In 1920 at the second of a series of regattas which were held throughout most of that decade, the late H.P. Hill, MLA, presented prizes to the contestants. At the regatta the next year the mayor of Ottawa hoisted the flag over a new 26 foot diving tower and later in the day Alderman Allan Snowdon took part in a fancy diving competition.
Then, in 1926 the beach had its reputation enhanced by a visit from the late Field Marshal Lord Haig and Countess Haig. They were escorted to the beach by Mayor John Balharrie and after a brief tour of inspection, Lord Haig declared the newly competed community-built bathing house open. Countess Haig either behaved graciously or actually liked what she saw of the beach for she requested a souvenir of her visit and received a membership badge from Dr. W.T.M. MacKinnon, now honorary president of the club. The Haigs were in Canada at the time on a tour connected with the formation of the British Empire Service League of which the Canadian Legion is a member.
Brighton Beach is still operated by a committee, the members of which are residents of Ottawa South. It operates as a non profit organization and is incorporated as the Brighton Beach Aquatic Club Association under a provincial charter. Membership is open to anyone at $1 per year per person or family membership at $2.50. Those without membership are admitted for 10 cents. The property which Brighton Beach occupies is owned by the city and is rented to the club for $1 per year. Up until 1927 the city gave the club a small grant but since that year it has grown more and more financially stable and at present is in such a preferred position that a reserve fund is being built up for the purpose of erecting new dressing rooms.
The committee responsible for the administration of the beach during 1946 is formed by Mr. Tompkins, president; Joyce Richards, vice-president; Linton Davidson, secretary; Fred Gardner, treasurer; Albert Wheeler, beach superintendent and Dr. MacKinnon, honorary president.
All these officers are residents of the Ottawa South Community thus maintaining the original plan of making a beach a community project–a project of which any community might well be proud.
Editor’s note: Sadly, due to poor water quality, all the Rideau River beaches in the City of Ottawa were closed in the 1970s and only Mooney’s Bay was reopened for swimming.