It is not much to look at in December, with the sun decks long abandoned and a flock of dreary sea gulls floating listlessly over the deep end.
But by the time the first of the season’s anticipated 150,000 visitors has lined up for the Victoria Day opening next May, Kits Pool will have been drained, scrubbed, polished and will once again be looking like the star attraction it is, filled to the brim with more than one million litres of fresh, sparkling sea water.
Ever since it first opened, on Aug. 15, 1931, the pool that looks out over English Bay at Kitsilano Beach Park has been regarded as a very special place. Although its formal name is Kitsilano Pool, nobody calls it that. It is Kits Pool, and it is recognized by many not only as the best of Vancouver’s five outdoor pools – but arguably the best pool in the world.
“No place like it in Canada! It’s amazing and it’s that simple,” KW Ruby writes in a TripAdvisor.com review, one of 31 commentators who gave Kits Pool an “excellent” rating.
“Yes it is salt water! … with a phenomenal world class view to boot!” added KH.
Over at Yelp.ca, the praise was just as great.
“Best pool ever,” wrote Ayla B., of Berkeley, Calif.
“If there is a better pool in the world, I certainly don’t know it!” agreed Ulrich P., from Vancouver.
“This is no ordinary pool and I insist you check it out,” wrote Laurie R., of Spokane, Wash.
Those kinds of reviews don’t surprise Sean Healy, the aquatics supervisor for the Vancouver park board, who says people have been raving about the pool ever since it was built, as a depression-era job-creation project, more than 80 years ago.
“I think what makes it really work is that it’s just such a fabulous location,” he said, noting that it is adjacent to Kitsilano Beach, the grass boulevards of the park, a waterfront walking path, fine restaurants and local bars.
On top of all that, it is the longest salt water pool in North America, with swimming lanes that stretch for 137 metres. There is also an extensive shallow end with a sloping “beach-style” entry, and deep-water areas where swimmers who don’t want to churn lengths can just hang out.
Sunbathers can look out on English Bay where freighters lie at anchor, sail boats race and fishing boats chug toward the safe harbour in False Creek.
Across the bay, the towers of the city reflect the evening sun.
Because of its stunning setting, said Mr. Healy, photographs of Kits Pool have been featured in many travel books and international magazines.
He said the pool has a special following among swimmers in the city, with many people marking the May opening and September closing dates on their calendars, and attending every day in between if they can.
“I know one woman drives in from Chilliwack – 80 kilometres, just to swim at Kits,” said Mr. Healy.
In addition to the beautiful setting, he said the length of the pool attracts many serious swimmers, including triathletes who use it as a training facility.
And others are drawn by the fact that it is a salt-water pool, as opposed to a pool filled with chemically treated freshwater.
When the pool was first built (for $50,000), plugs were simply opened and it was filled by tidal flow from English Bay. After the facility was refurbished (in 1978 for $2.2-million), a pump system was installed. But the pool still draws its water from the bay.
“It’s not prepared water. It is the Pacific Ocean,” said Mr. Healy.
He said every pool in Vancouver has a loyal following, but the fans of Kits Pool are passionate.
“In some ways it is hard to put into words what people feel about that pool,” said Mr. Healy. “But when you are there on a summer day, it is a magical feeling. It’s truly a great experience.”