Canada has a very rich history of open water swimming throughout modern times. Its professional marathon swims and solo races are renowned in the open water swimming world.
Its swimmers who have been inducted into the International Marathon Swimming Hall of Fame include Christine Cossette, Robert Cossette, Jacques Amyot, Lynn Blouin, Marilyn Bell, Helge Jensen, Vicki Keith Munro, Cliff Lumsdon, Cynthia 8icholas, Gilles Potvin, Gus Ryder, Greg Steppel, Patty Thompson and Margaret Park Wisniski.
The efforts and exploits of these outstanding individuals are noted below.
Jacques Amyot, Canada, 1995
Jacques was the first person to swim across lac St-Jean in Quebec, Canada in 1955. His efforts lead to the formation of la Traversée internationale du lac St-Jean, one of the world’s longest and best organized professional marathon swimming races. On July 23rd, 1955, seven swimmers signed up for the first crossing of la Traversée internationale du lac St-Jean, but only Jacques finished the 26K (16-mile) swim in 11 hours and 32 minutes.
Marilyn Bell, Canada, 1967
16-year-old Marilyn was the first person to swim 51.4K (32 miles) across Lake Ontario in 1953. As a 17-year-old, she became the youngest English Channel swimmer for a period of eight years. She swam from Cap Gris Nez, France to East Wear Bay, England in July 1955.
Lynn Blouin, Canada, 2004
Lynn has been in marathon swimming administration for nearly 20 years. She began as a staff person for the professional 42 km (26-mile) Traversée Internationale du Lac Memphrémagog in Quebec, Canada and rose to the position of President and Race Director from 1993-1995.
Lynn also helped form the International Marathon Swimming Federation which later became the International Marathon Swimming Association. She was active in conducting many world events from 1997 to 2002 as General Secretary of the International Marathon Swimming Association. She is also serves as the International Marathon Swimming Hall of Fame Vice President.
Christine Cossette, Canada, 1982
In 1984, Christine, a 22-year old Canadian swimmer, became the first person to complete a 64K (39.7-mile) double-crossing of lac St-Jean in Quebec, Canada in 18 hours 27 minutes, leading to an annual double-crossing race from 1985 to 1989. After completing the first leg in 9 hours 29 minutes, she swam the second leg in 8 hours and 59 minutes.
Robert Cossette, Canada, 2004
Despite being crippled in one leg by polio, Robert participated in the 32 km (19.8-mile) Traversée internationale du lac St-Jean from 1955 to 1965, the 32 km (19.8-mile) Traversée de la Manche from Angleterre – France, the 51 km (32-mile) Traversée du Lac Ontario (Marathon de Brading), the Ste-Anne de Beaupré, the 70 km (44-mile) Montréal swim, the 35K (22-mile) Around Atlantic City Swim, the 16K (10-mile) Trois-Rivières Swim, the Marathon de l’Expo de Toronto, the Lac Simon Swim, the Détroit de Juan de Fuca and La Gilman Chibougamau Swim. He was the first person to swim 37 km (23 miles) from Chicoutimi to Bagotville in the Saguenay River in Canada that resulted in the annual la Descente ou remontée du Saguenay numerous times. He was president from 1973 to 1988 of the Marathon du Saguenay and trained several swimmers for la Traversée internationale du lac St-Jean and 37 km (23-mile) la Descente du Saguenay.
George Duthie, Canada, 1966
George organized the famous professional Canadian National Exhibition swims from 1933 to 1968 as the Canadian National Exhibition Manager of Sports Department and was later inducted in the Amateur Athletic Union of Canada’s Hall of Fame.
Vicki Keith Munro, Canada, 2003
Vicki completed an incredible number of record swims including swimming 69 km (43 miles) in a pool in 24 hours in 1990. During 1989, she swam butterfly across the 35K (22-mile) Catalina Channel in 14 hours and 53 minutes, 51.5 km (32 miles) of butterfly in 31 hours across Lake Ontario, 28.9K (18 miles) of butterfly in 13 hours in Lake Winnipeg, 32 km (20 miles) of butterfly in 14 hours in Juan de Fuca, 23 hours and 33 minutes of butterfly across the English Channel, and 22.5K (14 miles) of butterfly in 13 hours 30 minutes in a circumnavigation of Sydney Harbour.
During 1988, Vicki first and only person to swim across all five of the North American Great Lakes – all within an astounding 61-day period. She swam 51.5K (32 miles) in Lake Ontario in 23 hours 30 minutes, 38.6 km (24 miles) of butterfly in Lake Ontario, 32 km (20 miles) in 17 hours in Lake Superior, 72.4 km (45 miles) in 53 hours in Lake Michigan, 77K (48 miles) in 46 hours and 55 minutes in Lake Huron, and 32K (20 miles) in 20 hours in Lake Erie.
During 1987, Vicki did the first double-crossing (64 miles) of Lake Ontario in 56 hours and 10 minutes. In 1986, she did a 129 hour and 45 minute continuous pool swim in Kingston, Ontario, Canada. In 1985, she did a 100-hour continuous pool swim in Kingston, Ontario, Canada. In 1985, she did 12 miles of butterfly in 11 hours and 30 minutes in Lake Ontario.
Vicki has won numerous awards and honors from dozens of government agencies in Canada. She coaches children with disabilities, Carlos Costa, a double leg amputee who became the first disabled athlete to swim across Lake Ontario, and Ashley Cowan, a quadruple amputee who swam across Lake Erie. Herpositive spirit and tireless dedication has changed attitudes towards total inclusion for children with disabilities in the sports of swimming and marathon swimming.
Cliff Lumsdon, Canada, 1969
Cliff was one of the world’s great marathon swimmers and a five-time world champion between 1949 and 1954. He was known for his ability to swim in cold water, once going 51.5K (32 miles) in 18-plus hours in water temperatures ranging between 8.8° – 11.1°C (48°F – 52°F)
Cliff’s most famous swim was the 51.5K (32-mile) Canadian National Exhibition swim in 1955. The 35 starters dropped out with Cliff the only one left in the water; however, after 26 miles, he had also started to tire. The remaining 9.6K (6 miles) involved lots of media involvement – leading local businessmen to add numerous extra items to the $15,000 first prize. One offer, involving $1 for every stroke used on the last 8 km (5 miles), added another $15,000 to the prize. Other offers involved a hunting lodge and a house. The result was that Cliff was the only finisher, with prizes, gifts (hunting lodge and house) and consumer endorsements that totalled US$84,000.
His cold-water abilities were reflected in his 1956 11 hour and 35 minute crossing of the Straits of Juan de Fuca between the state of Washington and Vancouver Island in 8.8°C (48°F) water.
In the 35K (22-mile) professional Around-the-Island Marathon Swim in Atlantic City, USA, he finished second in 1954 in 9 hours 25 minutes, a close second in 9 hours and 56 minutes in 1955, finished first in 9 hours and 51 minutes in 1956, second in 12 hours 9 minutes in 1958, first in 10 hours and 54 minutes in 1959, second in 10 hours and 40 minutes in 1960, third in 11 hours 36 minutes in 1961, second in 12 hours 1 minutes in 1962, fourth in 12 hours 13 minutes in 1963 and fourth in 10 hours 32 minutes in 1964. He finished third in 7 hours and 22 minutes in the 37K (23-mile) la Descente ou remontée du Saguenay in Canada in 1965 and tied for third in 6 hours 39 minutes in 1966.
In the Canadian National Exhibition professional marathon swims in Toronto, he finished fifth in the 16K (10-mile) 1948 race in 4 hours 47 minutes, first in the 24 km (15-mile) 1949 race in 7 hours 54 minutes, first in the 24 km (15-mile) 1950 race in 7 hours 18 minutes, third in the 16 km (10-mile) 1951 race in 4 hours 32 minutes, first in the 16K (10-mile) 1952 race in 4 hours 24 minutes, first in the 16 km (10-mile) 1953 race in 4 hours 26 minutes, first in the 51.5K (32-mile) 1955 race in 19 hours 48 minutes, fourth in the 15-mile 1961 race in 7 hours and 36 minutes, second in the 24 km (15-mile) 1962 race in 7 hours and 26 minutes, and sixth in the 24 km (15-mile) 1963 race in 7 hours and 58 minutes.
In 1949, he won the Lou Marsh Trophy for the outstanding Canadian Athlete of the Year. The Cliff Lumsdon Award is presented for outstanding achievement in marathon swimming in association Ontario.
In 1972, Cliff was elected president of the World Professional Marathon Swimming Federation.
Cynthia Nicholas, Canada, 1978
At age 16, Cindy Nicholas became the fastest swimmer to cross Lake Ontario with a time of 15 hours and 10 minutes. Cindy’s career includes 19 crossings of the English Channel and the first woman to complete a double-crossing of the English Channel. Of her 19 crossings, 10 involved two-way swims, including a double-crossing record of 18 hours and 51 minutes in 1982 and an England-France record of 8 hours and 21 minutes on the first leg of her in 1981 double-crossing.
Cindy competed in the 32K (20-mile) Traversée internationale du Lac St-Jean races in 1976, 1977 and 1978. Her other achievements include her appointment to the Order of Canada in 1979 and the Canadian Women Athlete of the Year.
Gilles Potvin, Canada, 2006
Gilles participated in many of the Quebec, Canada professional marathon swims: 34 km (21-mile) Traversée internationale du Lac St-Jean, the 45K (28-mile) Saguenay River swim, the 24-hour Lac La Tuque relay, and the Trois-Rivières swim.
He also coached several swimmers to victory in the 34 km (21-mile) Traversée internationale du Lac St-Jean including Carlos Larriera, Herman Willemse of the Netherlands in 1961, 1962, 1963 and 1964, Horacio Iglesias of Argentina in 1967, 1970, 1971, 1972 and 1973, John Kinsella of the USA from 1974 to 1979, Robert Lachance, Paul Asmuth of the USA, Obert Lachance of Canada in 1982 and 1983, his daughter Christine Cossette of Canada in 1987, 1988 and 1990, and Vicky Keith in 1990.
He also coached Canada’s national long distance teams for the World Swimming Championships in Australia in 1991 and Rome in 1994 and presided over Swim Canada’s long distance swimming committee.
Gus Ryder, Canada, 1981
Gus Ryder was an innovative coach whose athletes achieved national and international success as marathon swimmers including Marilyn Bell and Cliff Lumsdon. He founded Lakeshore Swimming Club in 1930 and was named Canada’s Man of the Year in 1955 and was named to the Order of Canada in 1975 for his work teaching disabled children.
Gus swam in a number of Toronto’s across-the-bay long distance races. In 1917, while playing hockey in Toronto, he rescued two players who had fallen through the ice before himself being trapped under the ice. He recalled that this was when he dedicated his life to swimming. Later, he was credited with 47 lifesaving rescues.
Greg Steppel, Canada, 1996
Greg placed second in the World Professional Marathon Swimming Federation rankings. He has won the professional marathon races, the 1995 Pan Pacific 25K Championships, the FINA World Championship Preliminary and the 1994 World Swimming Championships 25K in Italy.
Patty Thompson, Canada, 1969
Patty, a Canadian Olympic swimmer at the 1964 Tokyo Olympics, was the 1969 women’s World Professional Marathon Swimming Association champion. She won all her professional marathon swims: 16 km (10-mile) Hamilton Marathon Swim, 27K (17-mile) Rhode Island Marathon Swim from Narragansett Rhode Island to Block Island, 19 km (12-mile) Man and His World Marathon Swim and a 24-hour swim in Santa Fe, Argentina. At age 45 in 1991, Patty became the oldest female to cross Lake Ontario with her time of 19 hours and 18 minutes.
Margaret Park Wisniski, Canada, 2000
George Young, Canada, 1963
17-year-old George was the sole finisher of the 1927 Wrigley Ocean Marathon across the Catalina Channel in 15 hours and 44 minutes, winning the $25,000 first prize.
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