By Mel McConaghy
In the 1940’s, the old gravel pit was our Aquatic Center, unless you were brave, an excellent swimmer and preferred the fast and dangerous waters of the Fraser and Nechako rivers.
The Fraser was not an option for me, my mother strictly forbid it.
The favorite spot for people to swim on the Fraser back then, was on the downward side of Goat Island. In those days, the island ran from right under the old railroad bridge, and extended about a half mile downstream. To get to it, you either had to brave the automobile traffic crossing the bridge, or stay on the tracks in the center, and then climb down a rickety old ladder.
The Nechako was a little more sedate, but it was still a river, and had some dangerous currents. Mother also outlawed it, which left me with only one option, ‘the old gravel pit’.
The old gravel pit was just what its name implied, a gravel pit.
It was situated at the west end of the CNR yard, just past the old Army warehouses, between First avenue and the Nechako river. The CNR had taken gravel out of it for years, but after they’d dug down below the water level of the river, water started bubbling up from underground, and flooded it. It then became ‘the’ swimming pool for most of the kids in Prince George. Because the river water was always percolating up through the gravel, it was always fresh, and the same temperature as the river. Cold.
The kids did not mind the cold water on a hot day, and both of the other two aforementioned swimming spots were the same temperature. To get to the gravel pit, you had to go down the bank at the end of Vancouver Street, walk through the bush down to First Avenue, past the warehouses, and across the tracks. There was a price of admission, like a piece of scrape wood that you might find laying around on your trip to the pit, or maybe an old car tire. This was to feed the fire that was kept burning while people were swimming. When a swimmer came out of the mountain fed water, they were usually a little blue in color, because of the cold temperature.
They’d run up to the fire to get warm, and as their legs started turning red from the fire, they’d get purple checkerboard patterns on their legs. There were no lifeguards or supervision, and lord forbid there was ever an adult. The pit was our territory. The older kids took care of the younger kids, and I don’t ever remember hearing of anyone drowning or getting hurt, because that’s the way it was back then. Responsibility was a way of life, not a job. But I did not swim at the gravel pit too often, because I did not like the cold water, and to be honest, I have never looked good in red, purple and blue.
My Life Through a Broken Windshield by Mel McConaghy
Mel McConaghy is a retired trucker and author from Prince George, British Columbia. Mel’s tales are his views of life “through a broken windshield”. They are entertaining and humorous in a folksy style.
Visit Mel’s website at www.melmcconaghy.com