The St. James Seals Swim Club
Celebrating More Than 50 Years of Competitive Swimming
The St. James Seals Swim Club was fostered out of a “Speed Swimming” program that began at the Y.M.C.A. back in 1958 in the City of St. James-Assiniboia as noted in an article written in The Times, dated July 7, 1971. The original club name was “The St. James ‘Y’ Seals” and at that time they were the city’s only local swim club competing in swim meets as well as Provincial Competitions.
In 1971 the Seals were ranked the 14th Top Club across Canada out of approximately 105 clubs in total, as well as being ranked Top ‘Y’ Club out of about 24 Y.M.C.A. clubs across the country. In October of 1970 the Seals had set 2 Canadian National Age Group Records and 39 Manitoba Records in a number of events under the direction of Coach Wilf Strom.
Wilf Strom & his wife Audrey Strom first became involved in the sport of “Speed Swimming” (today we know it as Competitive Swimming) following their children who had entered into the sport. The exact date the Strom’s began their journey into the world of Competitive Swimming is unclear but the earliest team photo is dated 1962-1963 on record. In 1966 Wilf Strom made the decision to quit his day job as a Construction Supervisor and began pursuing a Full-Time Coaching career with the St. James ‘Y’ Swim Club but prior to that, he would fit the coaching in around his work schedule. The sport of Competitive Swimming had become a Passion of both Wilf & Audrey and they continued to devote their time and energy into playing a role in the development of kids in the sport of Competitive Swimming for many years to follow, long after their children had moved on.
In 1969 Wilf Strom was named the Chairman of the Manitoba Swim Coaches Association, heading up the following group of coaches; Marven MacDonald of the Cardinals, Ron Hardwich and Ron Lambert of Central Y Tankers, Art Rathgaver of EK Stingrays, Don Wells of Manitoba Marlins, Jack Baturin of St. Vital Y, Bonnie Benson & Dave Ransom of the University of Manitoba Swim Club, Ben Pennings of St John’s Swim Club, Morley Campbell of Transcona Swim Club and Cay Kerry & Marg Catchpole of Winnipeg Synchronized Swim Club.
By 1971 the swimmer membership of the Seals was limited to 25 swimmers due to the lack of space and pool time available at the Y.M.C.A... So under the guidance of coaches Wilf Strom & John O’Brien, in 1972 the Seals began swimming out of both the Y.M.C.A. as well as the St. James Civic Centre Pool, located at 2055 Ness Ave, in an effort to expand with the intention of adding an additional 25 to 40 swimmers to the program.
Eventually, after a few years of swimming out of the Y.M.C.A., the Strom’s pulled all of their swimmers out of that pool and began swimming out of not only the Civic Centre but also the St. James Centennial Pool and Sargent Park Pool. It was at this point in time that the ‘Y’ was dropped from the swim club name, and became the St. James Seals Swim Club.
By 1973, the membership of the Seals Swim Club had grown to 100 swimmers between the ages of 7 to 17 years.
In the late 1970’s the Seals Membership hovered around 80 swimmers, but by 1984 membership dropped to about 60 swimmers and in 1988 the St. James Seals Swim Club membership had rebounded slightly to 65 swimmers.
Wilf & his wife Audrey were never Competitive Swimmers themselves and took many lessons and coaching clinics to eventually become Coaches themselves. The Strom’s also began coaching disabled swimmers in 1976, when a blind swimmer by the name of Tim McIsaac contacted them in search of a club to join.
In the early 1980’s Wilf & Audrey’s involvement in working with Disabled Swimmers led to their experimentation and development of a Technique currently used today with blind swimmers called “Tapping”, This technique allows blind swimmers to reach their optimum performance levels both in training and in competition without the fear of the swimmer hitting the walls of the pool. Tappers are positioned at each end of the pool and use a rod with a firm foam tip to touch or tap the swimmers at the correct moment, which must be synchronized with the swimmers stroke.
By 1988, Tim McIsaac had become a top International Swimmer and a favorite to win medals at the Paralympics Games being held in Seoul, Korea on Oct 15 to 24, 1988. Wilf Strom was named as Senior Coach for the Blind, with his wife Audrey also attending as the teams Technical Director for the International Sport Technical Committee.
Today the Strom Family are considered the Founders of the St. James Seals Swim Club, with the swimmers and the sport of competitive swimming being the ultimate beneficiaries of their years of hard work, contributions, and dedication for which we are truly grateful for. Sadly Wilf Strom passed away on August 10th, 2007, with 27 years of Coaching for the St. James Seals Swim Club under his belt.
Over the years The St. James Seals Swim Club has produced many swimmers competing at the Provincial, National, and International levels, with many races won & lost and many records made & broken along the way.