Women only swim night at Yellowknife pool proves popular

Sometimes it takes fresh eyes to recognize a need.

Anjum Bhatti moved to Yellowknife from England a couple of years ago. She noticed women in Yellowknife did not have access to the popular women only swim nights she had been accustomed to. 

"A lot of women don't like swimming in pools where there's men," Bhatti said. "It can be religious reasons, cultural reasons, [or] just body image."

Bhatti thought women in Yellowknife might enjoy the kind of women only swim nights that she says had been popular in her home town since the 1980s, especially immigrants or any woman new to the community.

"A lot of these ladies … they've left their countries and they come from large families and they're here by themselves. But at the pool you'll find that all the women are socializing and chatting and having fun — it's just a way for them to get out and enjoy themselves."

Bhatti approached Karen Johnson, the community connections coordinator with the NWT Literacy Council, with the idea.

Johnson, herself a swimmer and boater, was on board. "It's important to me that everybody should know how to swim," she said.

Organizational challenges

But organizing the event brought its own set of challenges.

"The biggest one is just staffing the pool," Johnson said. 

With up to 54 women and youth coming out for the swim, that meant at least two female lifeguards were required, as well as a third support person.

To make the ladies only swim night happen, Johnson said they book the pool as a private rental.

Initial funding came from the federal government through Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada, which funds the NWT Literacy Council to host community programs for immigrants. Additional money has come from the Government of the Northwest Territories through its Healthy Choices Fund.

This funding has kept the swims free of charge.

Sara Minogue/CBC

For her part in organizing the swim, Johnson was awarded the NWT Recreation and Parks Association  2019 Innovation prize. The award recognizes the dedicated effort of a recreation professional or volunteer in providing a unique or inventive approach to providing healthy lifestyle activities.

The next ladies only swim is Saturday evening at 8:15 p.m. at the Ruth Inch Memorial Poll in Yellowknife. It is free of charge.

"It's always full of laughter when we're at the pool, and lots of chatting," Johnson said.

Even if someone has never swam before, or doesn't have a bathing suit, Johnson said all that's needed are a clean pair of leggings and a t-shirt.

"It's all inclusive, everyone is welcome," she said.