Baptism takes place in Montreal public pool

Jordana Divon
Daily Brew
March 10, 2012

A Montreal public pool became the scene of a religious rite last Saturday when a group of people performed a baptism during the facility's free swim period.

OpenFile Montreal editor Dominique Jarry-Shore was swimming laps at the Gadbois swimming pool in the city's Saint-Henri neighbourhood when she claims she saw a group of people approach the lifeguards.

Though she didn't actually witness the baptism, Jarry-Shore said that ten minutes after she got out of the water, a woman entered the change room, dripping wet, and wearing a white skirt and t-shirt instead of a bathing suit.

Another ten women, all of whom appeared to be part of the same group, also entered the change room, fully dressed, after returning from the pool area. They were later seen praying in the building stairwell.

Jarry-Shore said she also spotted a man in pajama pants and a t-shirt who appeared to be the group's pastor or priest.

"It seemed a bit strange what was happening," she told Yahoo! Canada, adding that she received confirmation from a lifeguard that a baptism had, in fact, just taken place.

"I said, 'Wow, I've never seen anything like that before, and he said, 'Yeah, neither have I,' but it was something that had been agreed to ahead of time with his boss, so the lifeguards had just let it happen because apparently it had been authorized."

Part of her surprise stemmed from the fact that in the last five years, Quebec has held vigorous debates over reasonable accommodation, and how far the province should go toward making exceptions for religious minorities and different cultural groups.

Plus, as the article notes, Quebec has transitioned from its early Catholic roots into a more secular society since the Quiet Revolution of the 1960s.

"It seems like something that could be pretty explosive to have happen in a public pool during public swim when there are other people in the pool," Jarry-Shore said.

Mathieu Robert-Perron, a spokesman for the Sud-Ouest borough, also confirmed that the group had received permission to conduct the baptism by the pool manager.

He told OpenFile that Montreal has a "longstanding policy of keeping religion out of the public sphere," and that the incident "won't be repeated."

"Religious ceremonies are not a part of the city of Montreal's philosophy or practices, this was an error in judgment on the part of the pool's employee," Robert-Perron told the community-powered news organization. "The employee just wanted to help a family out and so the intention was good but she should have checked with us first."

Though OpenFile was unable to identify the religious group involved in Saturday's ceremony, Jarry-Shore spoke to a local pastor who told her baptisms are more of a symbolic ritual that can occur anywhere, including a bathtub.

"But a public pool full of chlorine doesn't seem like a place where you'd expect this to happen."