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Staying afloat

Community solidarity keeps a Plateau pool from drowning

Between the first year haven that is Korova and the television screens and sports fanatics at Champs sits a building that is not altogether discreet, but that, somehow, manages to escape the attention of students as they skip from one bar to the next. It is a stone building on the corner of St. Laurent and Bagg, with the word “Bain” faintly etched above the high doorway – a far cry from the neon signs that surround it. But this building, and the swimming pool contained within its 1930s exterior, is of distinct importance to the residents of Plateau Mont-Royal. The pool’s value became particularly evident in September, when the borough council suggested closing Schubert Pool, citing financial difficulties.

Residents wrote letters and collected 4000 signatures within 10 days, reversing the council’s decision by late October. When considering the strong historical and emotional ties that link this public pool to its patrons, this sudden response begins to make sense.

Johanna Guay, a swimming instructor at Schubert Pool and student at McGill, told The Daily in an email: “I coach adults [who] used to swim at Schubert when they were younger with their parents.” The sense of community is palpable. On the wall in the viewing area are photo displays that display synchronized swimming and water polo teams, skating patrons and children’s events. Above these photos rests the title “Club Schubert”.

Despite how tight knit the Schubert Pool community appears, “Club Schubert’s membership is not very big. The 25 meter pool is fairly empty, with less than 15 people attending the free swim.

Schubert pool’s importance to the Plateau community is twofold. First, there is the necessity of having an accessible pool. Schubert’s free swims certainly satisfy the accessibility criterion. For children, the pool offers private lessons as well as the aforementioned synchronized swimming and water polo teams. Guay said that “the kids are taught water safety skills which make them aware of risks in everyday life.” She also made clear that the presence of a pool and of accessible lessons is important for more than just youth. Had the pool closed in January as was originally suggested, Guay predicted that many of the adult beginners who currently swim at Schubert wouldn’t have kept taking lessons.

Schubert pool also contributes to the community in a broader way. Francisco Toledo, a sociologist at Université de Montreal and a relatively new patron of the pool, said that keeping the pool open was a way of defending the small town lifestyle, something that Luc Ferrandez, the mayor of the borough, professed to support in an interview in the film Republique: Un Abecedaire Populaire.

Though Toledo had moved to the neighbourhood only one month beforehand, his was one of the signatures on the petition that was so integral in keeping Schubert Pool open. When asked why he signed it, he replied that “keeping this kind of lifestyle should be a priority, not just a minor aspect of the budget. Otherwise we are leading to the development of a gentrified neighbourhood.”

Add into the mix the rich history of Schubert Pool itself, from its beginnings as a bath house in the Great Depression to its conversion into a swimming pool during WWII, and it becomes clear that the permanent closure of this facility would have wide-ranging effects.

For now, this is no longer an imminent danger, but the low numbers and budget deficits will surely keep the council’s eye on this cultural landmark. Much of this is due to the lack of awareness that this pool exists; Guay herself said that she “was surprised when I first discovered there was a pool on St. Laurent and Bagg.” She is surely not alone amongst McGill students, but, between the free swimming and the community atmosphere, Schubert is definitely worth a visit.

For many, the free swimming is what draws them in, but the sense of community that keeps them coming back to Schubert Pool. Guay phrased it perfectly when she said, “Schubert is definitely not just a place to swim.”