Red cross swim program wind down

Announcement ‘sent waves’ across Canada

Illustration by Gabrielle Funk

 The Red Cross is known around the world for its humanitarian work, providing support during everything from natural disasters to civil wars. Generations of Canadians have also known the Canadian Red Cross through their popular swimming programs, which the organization recently announced would be ending after 76 years.

Rishona Hyman, founder and owner of Winnipeg-based Aqua Essence Swim Academy, says this news was completely unexpected to everyone in her industry.

“It just came as a huge, sudden shock and surprise, and it sent waves across the aquatic community across Canada,” she says. Hyman’s swim academy uses the Red Cross’ curriculum.

The program, which was founded in 1946 following a large number of drowning deaths, will end by December 2022. To date, more than 40 million Canadians have completed the program.

“The Red Cross has felt the crunch (of the COVID-19 pandemic) like everyone else. They are very busy with their humanitarian efforts and disaster relief, and I think they just needed to put more resources into that,” Hyman says.

According to their Jan. 12 press release, the Canadian Red Cross is “encouraging its water-safety training partners to transition to the swim and lifeguarding programs of the Lifesaving Society Canada through the course of this year.”

Ashlyn Argo, a first-year student at the University of Winnipeg, took swimming lessons that followed the Red Cross program for approximately eight years.

“I think Red Cross lessons definitely provided a good foundation for swimming and safety in and around bodies of water,” she says in a statement to The Uniter.

Argo adds that the skills she learnt in these lessons were applicable to other activities.

“I learnt all my basics for swimming with Red Cross in past years, (and) I received certification for sailing tall ships, which required knowledge that I learnt in lessons when I was younger,” she says.

Part of the attraction of the Red Cross program is that it was available at public facilities.

“The programs also had a fairly accessible cost for most,” Argo says.

For instance, the City of Winnipeg currently offers Red Cross Learn to Swim courses, with costs ranging from $55 to $108 for the preschool and Swim Kids programs. Subsidies are available for lower-income families.

While most of the Red Cross’ swimming program is ending, some aspects will remain operational in Indigenous communities, which have disproportionately high rates of water-related deaths.

“I am glad to hear that the program will continue in First Nations communities, and I’m hoping Lifesaving Society Canada is able to provide similar programs providing just as equal accessibility,” Argo says.

Hyman, who has long been involved in the swimming community, says this is a moment that will leave many people feeling nostalgic or sad.

“It was part of your Canadian identity in so many ways,” she says.

Published in Volume 76, Number 16 of The Uniter (February 3, 2022)

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