The East End Swimming Pool Issue (Part 2) – Push Back

The East End Swimming Pool Issue

Push Back

After the bylaw banning Black citizen’s right to patronize Edmonton’s three new swimming pools was rescinded by a majority of city council on July 14, the controversial issue appeared to die down. But behind the scenes a small group of racists both within city council, and the Edmonton exhibition board—who appeared be to in collusion with each other—were biding their time, and plotting their next move. The three and a half week hiatus served the cabal well. It gave enough time for a 535 name petition to be gathered, and be presented to Edmonton City council. The petition demanded them to re-enact the ban on the “Negro” citizen’s right to use the public pools. While it’s not clear who organized it the petition it served the cabals racist position well.

“It is not a question of superiority of race, but there is that line of distinction between the white man and the black races that cannot be bridged.”

The Edmonton Exhibition Association— made up of both city council members and leading members of Edmonton’s white community—administered the pools for the city, and it was incumbent upon them that they remain profitable. Therefore, the subject of allowing the “Colored Race To Swim” was the main topic of discussion at a meeting held August 5. The controversy focused on the city’s East End (Borden Park) pool, “which was closest to where many black residents lived”.

The Edmonton Exhibition Association Directors main witness was “Superintendent Parsons of the East Pool”. During the directors extensive interrogation the Edmonton Bulletin reports that Parsons informed the association that, “after equal rights…” were granted to the black citizens allowing them to swim in the pool, he was bombarded by calls from angry white citizens questioning the city’s reversal of the decision. According to the Bulletin, Parsons claimed that: “They all declared that they would not use the pool again if the colored people were allowed to do so…” Parsons also informed the Association that, “I have had only four applicants up to the present, and as I have not had any orders issued me to permit them to enter the pool I have not done so.” He also went on to tell the assembled officials—which included city aldermen opposed to the integration, “the receipts have not been anything like they were before.” The directors were quick to concur with the superintendent, informing the meeting that a tally of admission fees collected two days before the ban was lifted, totaled $175.00. Two days later fees collected dropped considerably, to only $35.00. Of course this was the city’s worst nightmare. Instead of paying for themselves and returning a tidy profit, the pools were in danger of losing money and becoming a liability instead.

“It was not conceivable that any white person”—“especially a white women, will use the pools if they are to come into contact with a black man there.”

City Alderman Joseph Adair who was quoted extensively in the Bulletin, reiterated that the East End pool was losing money, and would “become a charge on the city”, if Edmonton’s colored citizens continued to use it. But in the next breath he reveals the real reason for his opposition stating: “It was not conceivable that any white person”—“especially a white women, will use the pools if they are to come into contact with a black man there”. Further exposing his prejudice he clarifies his views saying: “It is not a question of superiority of race, but there is that line of distinction between the white man and the black races that cannot be bridged.” He also claimed, “I have every sympathy with the negro . . .” but “they should be content with the wide sense of citizenship allowed them in Edmonton and not try and force the issue. . .” To be fair to Adair his views were not uncommon in general society (as the petition indicated), and certainly the other bigots in attendance sympathized with him. Alderman Adair goes on to explain that the Exhibition Board was not bound by the cities decision to integrate the pools—and, “the association could either accept the motion or return it to Council with counter proposals…”

In search for solutions someone put forward the idea that “dividing use time” of the pool might appease both parties if the water was changed after the Blacks used it. Superintendent Parsons was quick to quash that idea declaring “it was impractical because it would take three days to get the water back up to the required temperature.” A frustrated Adair made last ditch attempt to work around the problem saying that ”I recognized that they [the blacks] have certain rights as citizens but if they wish to force the situation the only course open to us is to build them their own swimming pool.”

Obviously, building a new pool was not an option, so the meeting turned to Captain Bowen who represented the Edmonton Exhibition’s opinion on the matter. The captain’s position was that if the “colored population of this city were approached in the proper manner” they might be convinced to quit the pools. He reasoned that if the blacks were informed—via a letter, of the “strenuous objection” whites had against them using the pools they would understand—“ their pressing for this privilege would inevitably lead to trouble [and] they would refrain from using them.” He goes on to theorize that: “so few of them have tried to do so would indicate they are not desirous of pushing themselves forward where they know they are not wanted.” With that, Captain Bowen moved that a letter be drawn up by the Association. Here they could outline their concerns to “Reverend George W. Slater, and Mrs. Poston” hoping the pair would understand the difficulties and “exercise their influence” with the city’s Black population, and convince them to stop using the pools.

Meanwhile the blacks had their defenders in Alderman East, and Alderman Shepard—who was already on the record opposing the ban. In opposition to Alderman Adair and Captain Bowen, Aldermen East moved that the council’s decision to integrate the pools be accepted while Alderman Shepard seconded it. This motion was defeated; however, while Captain Bowen’s motion to draft a letter and send it to the Negro Citizens Committee, carried the day.

The Edmonton Exhibition Association’s August 7 letter appealing Mrs. Poston’s group to back off on their demands for equal rights, appeared to fall on deaf ears. As several weeks of cool, rainy, weather settled in, rumors that the “Negro population mean to force [the] issue” ran rampant throughout the city.

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