There is something unique about the sound of wet feet running on wood.
Thwap thwap thwap thwap
The wood resonates after the feet move on.
That sound is my most powerful memory from today, the re-opening of Kingston’s Breakwater Park and the unveiling of the Gord Edgar Downie swimming pier.
The wood-slatted bridge connects the land to the cement pier, Canada’s first public deep water swimming pier.
Thwap thwap thwap thwap
That sound was in my ears as I plunged off the pier into Lake Ontario. The sound of wet feet running on wood. The heartbeat of the Swim Drink Fish movement.
After the running, there is silence. You leap from the pier and hover in the 4-foot space between land and water. In that moment, you are falling, flying, bracing yourself for impact. Then Lake Ontario opens up for you. It is all around you. The moment of falling is over. You are swimming.
That moment of careless free-fall was unthinkable just a few years ago. Kingston’s waterfront was famed more for sewage pollution and foot-slicing hard edges than for swimmable water and wheelchair/baby-stroller accessibility.
“Kingston’s waterfront can never be swimmable,” was the word on the street. Only the hard-core or late-nighters braved the lake.
Never say never
Vicki Keith was there, at the pier unveiling, to swim. A woman whose face and strength dominated the evening news when I was growing up. The first person to swim across all five Great Lakes. The first person to swim across Lake Ontario then turn around and do it all over again. Without stopping.
“Why’d you decide to do it?” I asked her.
“Because they said it was impossible,” she answered.
I thought of Gord then, a kindred spirit. He had the kind of contagious courage and unrivalled work ethic that stops impossible in its tracks.
“This is the beginning of unacceptable,” he once said. We will swim. We will drink the water. There will be fish.
For too many people, clean water is still a dream. We still hear the word impossible too many times in our lives.
Enough. Today is our line in the sand.
We will swim. We will drink the water. There will be fish.
Gord’s pier is everyone’s pier. Gord’s connection to his waterbody is everyone’s connection to their waterbody.
You could see it the minute the ribbon was cut. “Can we swim now?!” the kids beside me yelled. And they were off, drawn to the water.
Yesterday, the only place you could hear the sound of wet feet running across wood was on cottage country docks far from city centres and public parks.
Today, I hear Thwap thwap thwap thwap. I freefall. Feel Water. Joy.
Breakwater Park and the Gord Edgar Downie swimming pier in Kingston change everything.
We are re-connected to our lake. Life in Kingston will never be the same.
The Gord Edgar Downie Pier and Breakwater Park shoreline improvements were made possible by The W. Garfield Weston Foundation. Learn more about our Great Lakes Challenge initiative at www.greatlakeschallenge.ca.