Monday, July 20, 2009

Richard Herbert Crockett


Uncle Bert was born on February 23, 1886 at Glossop, Derbyshire, but moved with his parents while still an infant to Colwyn Bay, North Wales. The family moved from Colwyn Bay about 1890 and moved around a fair amount with stops in Broseley, Chester, and Northwich before settling in Stourbridge, Worcestershire by 1901. At the time of the 1901 Census, Richard Herbert Crockett was aged 15 years. He gave his place of birth as Glossop, Derbyshire and his occupation as a Fishmongers Assistant. He lived at 20, High Street, Stourbridge, Worcestershire. He lived there with his Mother and Father and Brothers and Sisters: James (aged 13), George (aged 12), Alice (aged 9), Thomas (aged 9), Ada (aged 6) and Lucy (aged 4). Bert married Jessie Heathcock at Stourbridge in 1907. Their only child, George Albert Crockett, was born in England in 1908.


Following his father, who had already emigrated to Canada, Bert set sail from Liverpool on July 8, 1911 aboard the Laurentic and arrived in Quebec on July 15. When Jessie and her two sisters-in-law, Mary Alice and Lucy, departed for Canada on August 31, 1911, Jessie stated that she was going to her husband who was a fitter in Edmonton. Bert and Jessie's son, George was not on that voyage; he arrived with his grandmother and aunts in October.

The Crockett family was probably drawn to Alberta by the Homestead Act. Quarter sections (640 acres) were granted to settlers who were willing to make the rough land into a farm. The cost to file an application for a Western Land Grant was $10.00. Richard Herbert Crockett applied for NW Section 27 Township 57 Range 1 Meridian 5. This quarter section was in Seymour, a settlement northwest of Edmonton later known as Busby. His father and brother were on the same section; James William had the SE quarter and Amos Crockett had the NE quarter. Amos set up a sawmill on his quarter which was on the shores of Lake George.

Bert had to delay his development of the homestead when Britain went to war with Germany in 1914 and on 21 May 1915, he signed up to join the Canadian Overseas Expeditionary Force. At that time he was a miner in Seymour, Alberta and he was described as 5'6", 40" chest, fair complexion, grey eyes, auburn hair. After serving 2 years and 71 days with the 51st Battalion overseas, he signed up again on the 17 January 1918; his physical description was the same except he had gained 1" in his chest and he had a scar on his left hand. The war ended later in 1918 and I doubt he actually went overseas for a second time.

Bert gave up the homestead shortly after the war and moved to 12009 92nd Street in Edmonton and worked for the Hudson Bay Company from 1920 until the city hired him as Superintendent of the West End Swimming Pool. Bert and his brother, Jim, were both well known and respected as coaches to champion swimmers in Edmonton.


In 1930, a new pool was opened in Fergus, Ontario and Uncle Bert was hired to manage the pool. The following are excerpts from the local history book, Looking back : the story of Fergus through the years, Vol. 2, Publisher: Fergus, Ontario: P. Mestern, 1983

M. J. Beatty traveled extensively for Beatty Brothers. On a trip to Edmonton, soon after construction started on the pool, he learned of Mr. R. H. Crockett's accomplishments at the West End Pool and Edmonton.

Immediately after returning to Fergus M.J. sent Mr. Crockett a proposition to come to Fergus and manage the new Fergus pool. He readily accepted and the F.N.R.reports:

"Yesterday, (February 26, 1930) we learned by wire from a member of the Edmonton Journal that the services of one of Canada's leading swimming instructors is been secured in the person of Mr. Bert Crockett, a prominent swimming and hockey coach of that city, who has an enviable reputation along these lines. He operated the large arena there in the winter and three city pools in the summer along with his father and brother of which have the reputation of being the best operated pools in the province of Alberta. Mrs. Crockett also an expert swimmer and instructress and her services will also be appreciated here."

They arrived in Fergus March 31, 1930 and will be living in quarters provided above the pool bathhouse and will be able to personally, assist the superintendent in the completion of the pool.

Most early users and spectators of the pool can recall the many conveniences of the pool. The individual cubicles for changing, hair dryers for after swimming, lockers with keys, the Beatty ringer under the steps to wring out all those wool bathing suits, the spic and span appearance of the pool at all times, the sign on the veranda giving dimensions and distances, the manually operated thermometer giving pool water temperature, Mr. Crockett and his assistants in their white ducks, shoes, and shirts they wore with pride and the beautiful flower boxes on the many posts around the pool and especially the crystal clear water still a trademark of Fergus pool.

Mr. Crockett spent 24 seasons at the Fergus pool. Many of his accomplishments and successes with swimmers will follow. For the man himself he loved children spending many hours and days with his rope and canvas collar around small children pulling them across the small pool. Learning their first strokes. He did Fergus and neighbours a great service far beyond the terms of his contract. He was also a disciplinarian, a necessity with this type of recreation, it only takes a few seconds to drown and the rules were for safety purposes as well as general behavior in the pools. He didn't hesitate to disqualify a swimmer for one day or two weeks of swimming, depending on the severity of the infraction. Unfortunately one swimmer (who will remain anonymous) advises me he was ejected for a misdemeanor and never went back to the pool. Mr. Crockett, I am sure could be credited with a perfect record with no serious accidents at the pool. A record that is still intact.

Mrs. Hilda Clark advises that in his last year at the pool he had to dive into bring up the girl who was unconscious on the bottom and Mr. Crockett wasn't able to get down to her. Shirley Campbell was near and assisted in getting her out and she was soon revived. This incident seemed to indicate that he should retire. More of Mr. and Mrs. Crockett's accomplishments with swimmers will follow.

In 1951 water was put into the big pool in early March. So the girls to train for a meet on March 31. Two car loads traveled to Vancouver with four swimmers Joan and Shirley Campbell. Elaine Chapman and Doreen Howatt. They won the 400 yd. relay by 100 ft.. Shirley 1400 yd. setting a record and Doreen was second. They returned home to a civic reception. Races at the C. N. E. were won again, and the possibility of the girls making an Olympic team in 1952 was hoped for.

In 1952 Doreen Howatt set a record in 400 yd. at 5 minutes 7.7 seconds. The Olympic swimmers picked were medley swimmers and Fergus girls were very disappointed. They continued their winning ways that the C. N. E.. Shirley Campbell won the senior mile championship and Doreen, still a junior came seconds and on August 27, 1952. Shirley turned professional winning the 3 mi. event in 1 hour and 21 minutes and 40 seconds, just 17 seconds short of the record. She one $1600 and came home to a civic reception in the arena. Gus Ryder regarded Bert Crockett as one of the finest swimming coaches nominated Shirley for the Lou Marsh trophy.

Shirley won the professional swim again in 1953 defeating several notable swimmers. Elaine Chapman came fourth, and Doreen Howatt won the silver bowl for junior 1 mi. in 1952 and the Ross Gold trophy one mi. championship for two years 1953 and 1954. Shirley Campbell was rewarded by the Egyptian long-distance swimming federation, who sent a special trophy presented on their behalf by Albert Menzies. 3 ft. high on a black ebony base with Egyptian symbols lotus petals a scarab. A sacred truth and a winged head.

Shirley made two valiant attempts to swim across Lake Ontario swimming under terrible conditions bad weather currents, mechanical problems that gained much fame for her efforts.

Again, she received a civic welcome with 5000 people attending with dignitaries, a street dance and full page editorial in the F.N.R as well as radio, TV interviews and many newspaper articles and photos .

Truly, the golden years for the Fergus pool and its much admired manager and coach Bert Crockett. It would take many pages to list all the accomplishments of these girls. They worked hard swimming many hours every day get in shape for the various events. They deserve all the fame they received and Mr. Crockett, fulfilled his fondest dreams.

At Mr. and Mrs. Crockett's retirement dinner feelings were expressed all around. Mrs. Crockett expressed her thanks stating "no one realizes the anxiety and responsibility of looking after a pool". How true! With all the enjoyment achievements and participation in the water, someone will always have the responsibility for safety and concern of the swimmers. An old axiom states. Records were made to be broken. Let us hope the goals and achievements of the pool will continue. That the boys and girls will constantly improve on time speed and distance and the perfect safety record at the pool will remain forever.

On a rare occasion, Mr. Crockett paid a summer visit to Mr. W. G. Beatty's cottage in Musokoka. Mr. Crockett worked six days a week and only had Sunday off. On arriving, W. G. was not available. But soon appeared from the lake having just completed his regular swim around the bay in front of the cottage. He had been swimming alone definitely a practice not condoned by Mr. Crockett. W. G. received a tongue lashing equal to anything handed out that the pool by Mr. Crockett, for his infraction of safe swimming practice.

Hundreds of people learned to swim under the most favorable conditions including careful instruction by Mr. Crockett and his assistants. And who can tell how many lives this may be the means of saving in years past, and yet to come. No better gift could have been built for the benefit of the community than the swimming pool constructed by Beatty Bros. and given to the town.

I remember Uncle Bert's trip west with the girls swim team in 1951 and I still have a white towel that he gave our family with Fergus Swimming Pool faintly stamped on it. What was not mentioned in the book was that Shirley Campbell asked Uncle Bert to come out of retirement to be part of her support team when she made her attempt to swim across Lake Ontario.


Bert and Jessie retired to Victoria in 1953 and bought a little bungalow at 3280 Epworth Street . They were the first people in our family to own a television and we would go over to their house on Saturday nights to watch the fights. When the house became too much for them to maintain, they moved to a residence for seniors run by the Salvation Army in Esquimalt, Matson Lodge.

The following article appeared in the Victoria paper in September 1972:

65 years together

Mr. and Mrs. Richard Herbert Crockett of Matson Lodge, 847 Dunsmuir Rd.., will celebrate their 65th Wedding Anniversary Tuesday, Sept. 26th.

Arrangements have been made to honor them with an open house by their neice Mrs. C.E. Hayward at the Amps Hall at the Oak Bay Junction from 2 p.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday Sept. 24th. In the evening a buffet supper has been arranged exclusively for relatives.

Among the guests will be relatives from Oregon and others from Vancouver.

The photo on the left is the last picture I have of Uncle Bert with Auntie Jessie. It was taken at Matson Lodge on September 26, 1974.

Uncle Bert died October 8, 1974 and Auntie Jessie followed him on November 15, 1975.

The following obituary appeared in an Edmonton newspaper:

Former swim Coach dies in Victoria, 88

Bert Crockett, 88, a former Edmonton swimming and hockey coach who branded marathon swims as "cruel and stupid" died recently in Victoria.

Once manager of the West End Swimming Club, Mr. Crockett made the comment in 1958, after his former pupil Shirley Campbell attempted to swim a treacherous 32 mile stretch across Lake Ontario.

Hampered by a painful shoulder injury after a grueling 18 hours, 44 minutes in the chilly water, she was only a mile from shore when Mr. Crockett decided to pull her out.

Born in Glossop, Derbyshire, Mr. Crockett came to Edmonton in 1911.

He was the supervisor for the West End pool in 1925 when it was first opened and during the winter managed city rinks. While at the West End he coached several provincial diving champions.

In hockey, he coached the juvenile champions for the province in 1923 and 1929. He was manager of the 82nd Street rink and one of his clubs produced the Colville brothers, Neil and Mac, who played for the New York Rangers of the National Hockey League.

In 1947 his four-girl relay team from Fergus captured the Junior Women's Canadian Championship held in Victoria and four years later, his four-girl team won three Canadian championships in Vancouver.

He moved to Victoria in 1953 and retired in 1954.

Mr. Crockett died on Oct. 8 and funeral services were held on Oct. 11.

He is survived by his wife of 67 years, Jessie; one grandson, Robert George Crockett of Stettler; four great-grandchildren; one brother, Thomas of Edmonton; and one sister, Ada How of Vancouver.

I remember Uncle Bert always having a twinkle in his eye and I would start to giggle just by looking at him. I loved all my Dad's uncles but Uncle Bert was my favourite, probably because I knew him best.

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