The new aquatic centre was only the beginning for Mayor Eddie Francis and Windsor’s city councillors.
With the downtown pool in the works, it was time to think even bigger and consider bringing the world swimming championships to Windsor.
It would be no small feat. Hosting almost 1,000 elite swimmers from more than 160 countries would count as the biggest international sport event the city had ever seen.
And with it came serious considerations.
Dilkens was a swimmer in high school, and shares a love for the water, but according to him the hefty price tag was a lot to take on.
And Windsor would be by far the smallest city to host the event in the 2000s. When compared to massive metropolitan centres such as Moscow, Russia (host in 2002), and Shanghai (host in 2006), the Windsor Metro Area, at around 320,000 citizens, is tiny.
While Windsor may be small, it’s determined. The community’s leaders decided to go for it.
“You know what? Sometimes you have to take yourself outside of your comfort zone and the mayor at the time [Francis] thought it was right for the city and so did the majority of city council and we all agreed to do it,” says Dilkens.
In December of 2012, on the eve of the same competition in Istanbul, Turkey, FINA announced that Windsor had won the bidding process for the 2016 championships.
A Canadian city better known for hockey and manufacturing had beat out Hong Kong and United Arab Emirates to put itself on the swimming map.
“Having an event of this size in the city, you had to think out of the box and you had to have a really creative city to do it,” says Ahmed El-Awadi, Chief Executive Officer of Swimming Canada.
The selection was validation for the years of work Francis, Dilkens, and others had put toward swimming and aquatic sport in Windsor.
“The event was FINA endorsing our community as being a community that developed world-class athletes,” says Francis.
WFCU Centre, Photo Credit: Kevin Jarrold
It’s the evening of Nov. 18, 2016 at the WFCU Centre, a few weeks before athletes were scheduled to arrive for the 13th short course world swimming championships.
Following an Ontario Hockey League win by the major junior Windsor Spitfires against the Sarnia Sting in overtime, a team began pulling apart the hockey rink to make way for a competition pool.
The work had to be done quickly but carefully, because it’s a precise and complicated affair, and that’s where Myrtha Pools played an invaluable role.
Myrtha Pools has become well known for their ability to put world-class pools almost anywhere. The company built the main competition pool and training tank for Rio 2016, and has built permanent structures all over the world.
Myrtha can build just about everything: from Windsor’s amazing Family Aquatic Complex to the warm-up pool that was added permanently to the WFCU Centre. They’re also responsible for the Toronto Pan Am Sports Centre pools, the biggest major aquatic construction in Canada in decades.
A team from Myrtha Pools assembled the competition basin for worlds out of stainless steel panels to within a fingernail of 25 metres, all while construction on the surrounding elements took place.
For the worlds, a state-of-the-art filtration system and water heater were brought in and installed. After about 10 days of diligent work, the Centre was transformed and ready to welcome the world.
“This building [WFCU Centre] was built as a multi-purpose building,” says Don Sadler, the project manager for the conversion from ice to water.
He says the WFCU Centre accommodated the pool well, although they had to tweak the ventilation system to ensure the humidity was managed. The air temperature was also increased to 27 degrees Celsius, for the comfort of the swimmers.
“This event is unique to North America and is certainly unique to Windsor,” says Sadler.
In addition to the competition, the FINA Convention, Medical Congress, and Coaches Golden Clinic were held around the same time.
According to Mayor Dilkens, the tourism demands were almost overwhelming. Every hotel room in the Windsor area was booked, including 300 across the river in Detroit.
WFCU Centre Community Pool
The temporary marvel wasn’t the only Myrtha Pool at the WFCU Centre for Windsor’s worlds. The city also decided to build a permanent 25-metre training pool under the same roof.
World-class swimmers need a warm-down tank between races, and the new six-lane 25-metre pool lives on to be enjoyed by the community as another legacy from the event.
“Swimming is one of the great sports because you can do it year round; it doesn’t matter if it’s raining, it doesn’t matter if it’s snowing, it’s year round and it’s available and it appeals to all ages,” says Dilkens
“You build a pool and everyone uses it.”
And there truly is tangible excitement around swimming in Windsor.
Perhaps bolstered by hosting the championships, plus Canadian success at the most recent summer Olympics where the national team won six medals, learn-to-swim programs have healthy registration according to city officials.
“We find that a lot of time after Olympic years interest not only in high-performance sport but also in the learn-to-swim programs increases,” says Jen Knights, manager of the Windsor International Aquatic and Training Centre.
“Also with folks knowing about the worlds coming to Windsor I think it puts swimming top of mind for them and we’ve definitely seen good numbers in all of our learn to swim programs.”
Cover picture Photo Credit: Tourism Windsor Essex Pelee Island