Another summer has come and gone for the Winkler Aquatic Centre. The facility wrapped up the season on Monday.

The hot start to summer had people flocking to the pool to cool off.

"Earlier in the season, we would hit capacity very, very often, which is like 500 people," explained Dean Klassen, co-aquatic programmer at the centre. That number did drop a bit as cooler temperatures moved in in July, going down to about 150-200 people on a really good day, according to Klassen.

"It definitely did start off quite impressive in terms of numbers of people that we had coming in, which was fantastic. But yeah, that weird bit in the middle, we did lose people though."

However, Klassen says a new pool heating system still kept people coming right until the end. 

Also new at the Winkler Aquatic Centre this year were a pair of upgraded speed slides. 

"Those were long-awaited and there were a lot of happy people when they first saw them opening day. People just love them," said Klassen, who feels the new slides are a big improvement over the old ones. "(They are) a little bit faster. And one thing that a lot of people at first, I think, threw them off was the drop is a little bit steeper. So, you'd see someone go down and you just hear the BANG as they hit the wall again. So, that took some adjusting."

This summer also marked the implementation of a new swimming lessons program at the centre, switching from the Red Cross course that's been offered for many years to one by the Life Saving Society.

"I think we were all a little unsure, especially from our guards," said Klassen. However, she says it went over really great. "We prepared them as good as we could. We did some training courses, and we did some online portions, but then it was kind of just go get them. See how it goes teaching new material. When you already kind of thought you knew how to teach it, but then we kind of switched it up on them, but they all handled it so well. "And I think a lot of kids were nervous being with their parents, but I think it went really well."

"Essentially, the Red Cross program really focused on, I would say, more so technique and creating good form and focusing on teaching those skills perfectly," added Klassen. "And I would say the Life Saving Society is more focused on survival and on that lifesaving aspect in terms of, your front crawl may not be very pretty, but if you can do it to save your life, then that's good enough for us." 

Klassen hopes this new swimming lesson format will get more people interested in becoming lifeguards. Many pools and aquatic centres across the region were facing a shortage of people interested in the job at the start of the season. 

"I'm sad that it's kind of losing traction, that lifeguarding position amongst younger kids," admitted Klassen. "But with this new Life Saving Society program, we start that lifesaving (aspect) earlier to hopefully continue bringing them through our programming all the way through. You start learning that lifesaving aspect now in Level 7 when you normally would have only learned it in maybe 9 and 10. And so, developing that interest a little sooner and then keeping our courses running, our national lifeguard, our bronze medallion and Bronze Cross, I feel like we are seeing a lot of interest. So, we're very hopeful for next year with some candidates we saw through our lessons this year."

Klassen has been a lifeguard for many years and says she's never once regretted it. 

"I always end up coming back every summer and it's just such a rare job in terms of, yes, sometimes you have friends at work, but at pools and with lifeguards and even just this pool in particular, I find that we're all friends. I don't just work and have some friends. I get to work with all of my friends, and it is fantastic. So, the energy is really good. It makes it really easy to want to come to work and show up and know that everyone is here to support you and you're there to support them."

In response to Canada's Online News Act and Meta (Facebook and Instagram) removing access to local news from their platforms, PembinaValleyOnline encourages you to get your news directly from your trusted source by bookmarking this page and downloading the PembinaValleyOnline app.