Robert Acreman and Marilyn Bell around 1956. How she endured that cold water I’ll never know!” said Acreman.

SOOKE HISTORY: The good looking swimmer and tugboat man

How Sooke's Robert Acreman met one of Canada's premier endurance swimmers

It was 59 years ago this month that Canada’s famous Marilyn Bell was posed with Sooke’s Robert Acreman after her successful Strait of Juan de Fuca swim.

During the 20th century, long distance swim challenges were all the rage, perhaps first highlighted by Gertrude Ederle, the first woman to successfully swim the English Channel in 1926.

Marilyn Bell was born in Toronto in 1937. In 1954 she became Canada’s sweetheart when she swam Lake Ontario, in 20 hours, 55 minutes at the age of 16. In 1955 she swam the English Channel in 14 hours, 36 minutes.

It was in 1956 that Marilyn tackled the Strait of Juan de Fuca; in her first attempt she had to give up, but the next month she gave it another try. On Aug. 23, she swam the 18.3 mile distance from Ediz Hook, near Port Angeles, to Clover Point in Victoria, in 10 hours, 35 minutes.

Back in the simpler postwar days of the 1950s, people seemed to take a great interest in following feats such as this, and everyone was out to help her succeed in the challenge. Island Tug & Barge, one of the foremost tug boating companies of our area (now taken over by Seaspan International), provided support vessels and assistance to Marilyn.

That’s how Sooke’s own Robert Acreman, a crew member on the tug Island Champion, came to be in a position to escort Marilyn, and share in the joy of her success as she managed to withstand the frigid water temperature on this epic swim.

According to reports, some 80 attempts had been made to swim the strait prior to the first actual successful crossing by Tacoma’s Bert Thomas in 1955, followed by Cliff Lumsden. Marilyn Bell was in fact the first woman and third swimmer to achieve the crossing and Victoria took her to their hearts, with a parade and much celebrating.

Robert Acreman, who went on to become a ship’s master for Island Tug and Barge himself, recalls: “It was actually at Finlayson Point that she landed … The weather could be very unpredictable and fortunately we had a good day. All the small boats that surrounded us kept clear of her but were close enough to enjoy the proceedings … she wasn’t a very big girl, and it was amazing she had the strength …. How she endured that cold water I’ll never know!”

•••

 

Elida Peers is the historian of Sooke Region Museum.

 

 

Just Posted

New Sooke councillors face old issues and new challenges

First meeting of new council sets the stage for the future

Passenger passes out on a bus in Sooke

Man was revived and was alert and coherent

Island Corridor Foundation optimistic about restoring rail service

If green-lighted, first priority would be Langford to Victoria route

Firefighters rescue horse stuck in Saanich mud

‘It happens more often than you’d think,’ says deputy chief

Food service workers at Victoria airport protest for second time in four months

Negotiations continue to drag on with employer Compass Group Canada, VAA refuses to engage

People flocking to Vancouver Island city to see hundreds of sea lions

Each year the combination of Steller and California sea lions take over Cowichan Bay

Vancouver Island remembers

Important stories shared as Islanders salute those who made the greatest sacrifice

Humans reshaping evolutionary history of species around the globe: paper

University of British Columbia researcher had the paper published in the Proceedings of the Royal Society

Toronto ‘carding’ activist Desmond Cole stopped by police in Vancouver

Cole says his experience reveals what daily life is like for black and Indigenous residents

Commercial trucks banned from left lane of Coquihalla

B.C.’s Ministry of Transportation has introduced a new program that hopes to prevent accidents and closures on the Coquihalla Highway.

B.C. on track to record same number of overdose deaths as last year

128 people died of overdoses in September, bringing the total to more than 1,100 so far in 2018

Cowichan school district defends lack of notice to parents following elementary student arrest

Officials with School District 79 stand by their decision not to send out an alert.

Canadians more prepared for weather disaster than financial one: poll

RBC recommends people check their bank app as often as the weather app

B.C. dog owner sues after pet killed in beaver trap

A Kamloops man is suing the operator of a trapline north of the city after his dog died

Most Read