For those of us who grew up before cement swimming pools, splash parks, and bikinis, we will never forget those great old swimming spots we often snuck off to for many a cool dip, and where most of us first learned to swim, even though it was only the dog paddle. Around Ponoka we always enjoyed countless hot summer days hanging around Three Islands and Bare Bum Beach along the lazy old Battle River.
BB Beach was located in the valley just around the corner from the north bridge, had a nice stretch of sand, and was a favourite spot for sun-bathing and occasional skinny dipping. Just below the CPR train station, generations of kids of all ages loved swimming and fishing next to the historical wooden dam, where another neat and exciting sport was trying to snare those elusive and ugly suckers. The day’s slippery catch was loaded into a gunny sack and sold to the local cafes for two bits a fish, which you could be sure, would appear on the menu with chips for the next few days.
Located on the first bend of the river going toward town and just past the black train trestle was our most popular swimming haven, affectionately known as Three Islands. As well as lots of swimming, fishing, and lazing around, we also had a nifty tire swing that was tied to a branch of the biggest tree next to the river, and allowed endless wild and weird flips and flops into the cool water from dawn till dusk. Over the years the neighbourhood gang had built all sorts of diving boards and other contraptions to test our skills, with some racing their bikes over ramps and into the water, while others fashioned rafts and all sorts of other floatables.
For a special treat we got to camp out beside the river, but were always under the watchful eye of the Riverside parents and the friendly Ponoka Town Police Department. In those days many of the rural farms also had their own dugouts or a creek running through their property for extra recreational activities, but the best day outings were a family excursion for a picnic or camping trip to a nearby lake, or a school, church, or club outing or campout to where water was always nearby. I know that so many of you will share these countless refreshing, sometimes daring memories of those youthful and exciting summer adventures in our 20th century hometown versions of “Water World.”
• We used to cover ourselves with mud, act like commandoes, often scaring the little duffers, who were having more fun chasing tadpoles and frogs, or trying to catch their first fish. Some were even brave enough to swim along the bottom in search of water beasts, breathing through a chunk of old garden hose or a bamboo shoot. Others patiently sat along the river bank holding their makeshift fishing poles, strung with a long chunk of kitchen string, to which was attached a hook and a juicy worm to hopefully lure the biggest fish in the river, and not just weeds. How happy were our dear mothers when we bought home a stinky bag full of fish or clams, which we expected her to cook up for supper, but likely were fed to the cats.
• While frolicking in the old river you really had to look out for glass or big rocks along the bottom, and after coming out of the water you may just be covered with those creepy leeches, which could be quickly removed by the flick of a lighter or the hot end of a cigarette.
• For someone like me, who was just a little afraid of water, we always went as a group, everyone kind of watched out for each other, and there was never too much bullying. As far as swimwear was concerned, it was whatever you could find in the drawer at home, but shorts or cut-offs would do, and if all else failed and it wasn’t a mixed crowd, you could just take it all off. On the other hand, some only wanted to wade, so they would hitch up their pants, skirts, or bloomers, and hope not to hit a hole. Later as teens we looked forward to getting together for a weekend party at these neat outdoor spots, a roaring campfire after dark, hot dogs and treats, and maybe, just maybe, a few beers to share.
• In those lazy, hazy, crazy days of summer, parents and kids of all ages could always find a way to get a free cool plunge in the water. Some simply jumped into the water trough, others ran through the sprinkler, and in an old history book I found a neat picture of a nice neighbourly gentleman who lined the box of his big truck with plastic, then filled it full of water and let everyone have a dip.
• Among my favourite memories is an afternoon off from school to come down and help fill a big hole full of rocks that in 1957 would magically become our first outdoor swimming pool, in which we spent hours, rain or shine. Quite a few years later a vigorous community fundraising campaign was led by the Ponoka Kinsmen/Kinette Clubs and many others that would result in the completion of the magnificent aquaplex indoor swimming pool in 1976, with many exciting additions and improvements being made to this day.
• I had a chance to chat with some of today’s exuberant teens and they informed me that there were indeed still some favourite get wet fun spots, in and around our community, recalling, Leighton’s swimming hole, and many a date night out at Chain Lakes.
Whatever your water adventures may be, yesterday or today, please have fun, play safe, and never abuse or underestimate the beauty and the power of nature.