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Butterfly stroke bishop hopeful for Yellowknife’s pool future


Retired Anglican bishop Chris Williams clangs his many Canada 55+ Games medals that he has claimed all over country and thinks back to the many pools that he has seen over his life.

Williams, a Northerner since 1960, has been vocal about how he'd like the aquatic centre to look in Yellowknife.

A multi-medal winner as an NWT representative at the Canada 55+ Games, Chris Williams has advocated on behalf of the Yellowknife Seniors Society for the development of the city's aquatic centre.
Simon Whitehouse/NNSL photo

He's had swimming in his bones since becoming a teenage British champion in the sport.  

“As a young man, I swam at the international level but when I came North at 24, there wasn’t any more swimming,” he said, noting his first stop in Kugluktuk, where no pool existed. 

“I was in small communities and there were very few facilities even here in Yellowknife”

In 1976, he came to Yellowknife from the Eastern Arctic to serve as a clergyman until the mid-80s, at which time he rediscovered his love of swimming. 

“There used to be a small pool in the basement of Fraser Tower. It was just a little 20-yard pool and after a time I started swimming again,” Williams recalled.

In 1992, he left for Iqaluit. He returned again to Yellowknife in 1996, this time serving as a bishop until retirement in 2002. 

Between 2010 and 2018, he racked up several seniors medals at the Canada 55+ Games all over the country, primarily in his main competitive discipline: the butterfly. 

In his last competition in 2018, when the Canada 55+ Games were held in Saint John, N.B., Williams, then 82, completed the 50-metre butterfly swim in the 80 to 84 category in a time of 1:02.14. 

Chris Williams shows off four medals, two gold and two bronze, he won in the swimming pool in the 70 and over category at the Canada 55-Plus Games in Brockville, Ont. in 2010.
NNSL file photo

The Yellowknife Senior Society selected Williams to sit on the City of Yellowknife’s aquatic centre advisory committee in 2018. 

City council approved a 25-metre, eight lane pool design on Jan. 25. Ensuring that services can continue for Yellowknife’s aging demographic was an important part of decision-making on that project. 

John Soderberg, president of the Yellowknife Seniors Society, said "seniors are becoming a more significant portion of the population... our concerns related more to the use of the facility by seniors than the structure delivery. We did support the necessity of a competition-size pool. In terms of use, we would like to see seniors' dedicated times and programs for seniors. e.g. aquafit.”

Williams said he championed a 52-metre pool with six lanes that have allowed for a two-metre divider and provided for more programs to take place at one time. 

He has welcomed a balanced approach to the facility that would encompass competitive swimming and recreational use. 

City Coun. Niels Konge, who also supported a 52-metre pool and who was the council representative on the aquatic centre advisory committee, said that having senior representation was important because it's one of the biggest user groups in the city. 

“The good news with the seniors is that the vast majority of them will have more time during the day when the facilities are not utilized very much,” Konge said. “So I ‘m hoping that we can run some later morning and after-lunch programming specifically.

“When we put that committee together we tried to get as wide a group of people to get perspective. I think that some of the seniors like Chris, who swims and who has probably been to more facilities than a lot of people, could see the opportunities with that type of facility (aquatic centre).”