The Good Old Days?? Swimming in the Poopy Detroit River


Windsor, Ontario swimmers cool off next to a sewer outflow in the Detroit, photo courtesy Tom Pare

A great story from one of our Walkerville Times readers, Howard Pare, Windsor, Ontario.

I can’t believe that in my early teens, along with many others, I went swimming at the bathing beach located at the foot of Bridge Avenue at the Detroit River. We had dressing rooms and bathroom facilities and we even had our own life guard, Mr. Farmer. In those days the City of Windsor’s sewers emptied directly into the Detroit River. There was a sanitary sewer that emptied next to the beach, not downstream but upstream so that the flow went right through he beach area.

These were the early “Dirty Thirties” when the water was polluted, smelly and full of weeds but there was no other place to go. To swim in the deep part of the beach, one would wait for the water to clear, dive off the sewer dock, swim out into the deeper part of the river for about two hundred feet to the diving board and boardwalk at the western part of the beach.

I can’t believe I went swimming at the Bridge Avenue Bathing Beach.

Excerpts from the “Border Cities Star”:

July 21, 1923

“The beach is perfectly safe for children. Although the water is somewhat polluted due to the beach being below city sewers, nothing is to be feared unless the water is swallowed.” Dr. Fred Adams, Medical Officer of health says.

Aug. 4, 1923

A daily average of 536 persons took advantage of the Bridge Avenue Beach records for the 31 days from July 3 to August 2 show. A lifeguard is always on hand. It’s very safe nature makes it ideal for children.

July 3 , 1925

Because one case of typhoid fever has been traced to bathing in the sewer laden water at the foot of Bridge Avenue, Mayor Frank J. Mitchell and Dr. F. Adams, medical health officer, will ask Chief Constable Daniel Thompson to place an officer at the beach to prevent bathing.

July 26, 1927

Seven Lives Saved During Last Two Weeks. James Farmer Lifeguard Praised for Work at Beach. “the beach is perfectly safe,” the lifeguard explains, “As long as swimmers stay within the safety limits which are plainly marked.”

June 19, 1929

In the meantime the situation has not improved and although a lifeguard is on duty at the Bridge Avenue Beach, certain conditions there make it extremely dangerous for bathers, according to Chief Proctor. There is also a large Windsor sewer which has its outlet to the river at this point, and the chief contends the beach cannot be safe with such a condition existing.

This story and many more plus wonderful old photos of Windsor, Essex County and Detroit are found in Walkerville Publishing’s award winning book, “Best of The Times” (408 pages, hard cover, coffee table size $45) and their new book, “Windsor Then – a pictorial history of Windsor, Ontario’s glorious past” (128 pages, soft cover, $20) available on line at or through, or call 519-255-9527. 

About Elaine Weeks

How history was taught in my day: memorize lots of boring dates and facts, watch corny old black & white history films. There was one bright spot, however. Grade 9 history at Walkerville Collegiate with Miss Falls (Georgina) when she taught a section on local history and took us on a field trip to explore some of Windsor's built heritage. Due to a series of peculiar events, celebrating local history became part of my business. My company, Walkerville Publishing Inc., (partner is Chris Edwards) launched "The Walkerville Times" in 1999 and we produced 61 issues - the last in 2016. In 2004, we began producing local history books; that year we released "Best of The Times Magazine". Our current titles include 5000 Ways You Know You're From Detroit, 500 Ways You Know You're From Windsor, Walkerville - Whisky Town Extraordinaire, and Windsor Then - A Pictorial Essay of Windsor's Glorious Past. I also wrote a novel, Time Trespasser, that blends time travel with local history. I am working on a sequel. I am a writer, editor, blogger, photographer, mother, wife, sister, activist, traveller, gardener, knitter, glass is nearly full person.
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2 Responses to The Good Old Days?? Swimming in the Poopy Detroit River

  1. Good all days, naivety of those days just never ceases to amaze me. Well, we are still eating cookies and drinking pasteurized milk, but we do not swin in sewage any more. Hurray! Long live progress!

    • selainew says:

      Yeah, difference today is what we can’t see won’t hurt us. To be fair however, there was no community swimming pools or airconditioning then and doctors weren’t piping up to say not to swim in sewer water, (remember the old ads about cigarettes like this one: More doctors smoke Camels than any other cigarette. so can we really blame them??

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