The nomination package supporting the induction of Daryl Bridges into the Midland Sports Hall of Fame is packed with ribbons, crests and other mementoes of a young life dedicated to sports including track and field, marksmanship, softball, ski-jumping, cross-country skiing, lacrosse and basketball.
But the name of Daryl Bridges remains synonymous with one sport: Swimming. Born in Midland in 1930, he became the youngest person to swim across the town’s Little Lake when he was just nine years old. In 1946, he won the first organized race across the lake, a feat he repeated in 1947, and again in 1948, when he set a new record of 20 minutes fl at. (The following year, he would win for a fourth straight year, breaking his own record by a full minute.) Also, in 1948, at age 18, he registered five first-place finishes in other races and placed fifth in the highly regarded Canadian National Exhibition’s Ontario championship one-mile race, a competition that attracted many of the best swimmers in the country.
In 1950, Daryl won the Fort William Domino Athletic Club’s annual two-mile swim in a record time of 48 minutes and 16 seconds, breaking the previous record by more than three minutes and outdistancing his closest rival by five minutes. But this victory, one of the pinnacles of his swimming career, would not come without significant controversy.
“Record Set in 2-Mile Swim, Winner Also Broke Rules,” stated the headline in the Fort William Daily Times-Journal, reporting on the events of July 29, 1950. (Fort William and Port Arthur now constitute the city of Thunder Bay.) Daryl, it seems, had not registered for the race and thus did not have the mandatory physical examination and was not accompanied by the required boat and observers. However, after a lengthy emergency meeting, race officials decided to let his victory stand.
By that time, Daryl was back at work in Dryden, Ont., but arrangements were made to get the trophy to Midland. “The trophy came down on the Keewatin [a passenger liner that plied the Great Lakes in those years] and to my parents,” Daryl recalled some years later. “They had it two weeks and the swim officials asked to have it sent back, which they did. To this day, I have never held, but only have seen a picture of the swim trophy.”
That would not be Daryl’s last accomplishment in the water. Later that summer, he came second in Gravenhurst’s Gull Lake open half-mile swim. In 1951, he again finished fifth at the CNE’s one-mile swim and in the Ross Gold Trophy two-mile race at the CNE. In 1978, he won the senior category in Midland’s Centennial Little Lake swim (across and back). But there is little doubt that of all those remembrances from swimming and many other sports, he most dearly would have loved to have held that trophy from Port Arthur.