New women's‑only swim session pilot at Dalplex supports need for instruction, privacy

- February 20, 2015

The Dalplex pool. (Provided photo)
The Dalplex pool. (Provided photo)

Starting this month, women in the Dal and Halifax communities will have the opportunity for women’s only swim and basic instruction offered at Dalplex on Sunday nights.

The pilot program was sparked by the Dalhousie/King’s Swimming Society (DKSS), and responds to a growing need for swim instruction for women in Halifax who are unable or uncomfortable participating in open or public swims for religious and/or cultural reasons.

DKSS offers a free drop-in co-ed swim program at several pools in Halifax, including Dalplex, where the society’s volunteers teach basic water survival skills to anyone who is keen to learn. During a meeting last year with members of the Halifax Immigrant/Migrant Women’s Association, Harry Critchley, a University of King’s College student and president of DKSS, realized that there was no opportunity at Dal that could support the particular needs of a growing community in Halifax.

He cites statistics from the Lifesaving Society of Canada in that drowning is the third leading cause of accidental death for those under the age of 60 in Canada, and that new Canadians are at especially high risk: they are four times more likely to be unable to swim than those born in Canada.

“Given Dalhousie’s diverse student population, we felt that we had an opportunity to impact those who may not be able to participate in our existing co-ed instruction program, as well as provide a place for women who just want to come in and swim on their own, in a supportive and culturally sensitive environment,” explains Harry.

Responding to student requests

Harry approached administrative staff at Dalplex to pitch the idea of piloting a weekly women’s only swim, where women alone could have access to the Dalplex pool for lane swimming and to the basic swim instruction his group offers. Staff in the Athletics and Recreational Services department were open to the idea, but needed more information before plans could move ahead.

“We needed Harry to do a bit more work and show us that not only was there a need for this kind of swim, but that there was an interest in it on campus,” explains Kathie Wheadon, director of facility and business services at Dalplex, “so we could be better informed about how many people — students especially — might be interested in attending before we could commit to moving forward.”

Working with the Dalhousie Student Union (DSU), members of the Dalhousie Muslim Student Association (Dal-MSA), Dalhousie’s International Centre and Dalplex, more than 200 people expressed their interest in participating in the proposed swim by signing a letter of support.

Zahraa Cherri, an active member of Dal-MSA, is eagerly anticipating the start of this new program.

“As a group, we have been talking about starting a female-only swim program for quite some time but we weren’t really sure where to start,” says Zharaa. “When the Dal/Kings Swim Society first approached us with the idea, we were really excited and were more than happy to help in any way we could.”

Supporting the initiative

The DSU has pledged its support of the initiative as well.

“From the very beginning, this whole project has been driven by students and is first and foremost aimed at providing a service to students that isn’t currently available on campus,” said Ramz Aziz, DSU president, noting that currently women’s only swims do exist at the Canada Games Centre and Centennial Pool, but not at Dalplex. “Harry identified a need in the Dal community that Dalplex wasn’t currently meeting and he has worked for the better part of a year to see this idea become a reality.”

In a manner sensitive to religious and cultural norms, the swim will be staffed only by women. As well, with funding assistance from the DSU, Dalplex has purchased and installed blinds in the building to safeguard participants’ privacy. This also ensures the cardio area, which has windows that overlook the pool, would not be impacted by the swim and that students and Dalplex members would be able to continue to use the equipment without interruption.

The women’s only swim will take place from 9:15 p.m. - 10:15 p.m. from February 22 to April 5 and is available free of charge to female full-time Dal students and Dalplex members. The swim is open to other women in the community and female children of all ages, and male children under the age of 5 are also permitted to attend. Standard Dalplex day pass rates apply to anyone without a membership.

The Athletics and Recreational Services department is keen to receive feedback on this pilot project and Wheadon stresses the department is always looking for ways to improve their services to better suit the needs of students.

“I think it’s great that the idea for this swim was spearheaded by our students and that multiple groups on campus worked in partnership to help get this initiative off the ground. If there are others out there who have suggestions or ideas for new programs or ways we can be more inclusive and supportive of our community, we want to encourage them to reach out to us as well.’

For more information, please visit or call 902-494-3372. If you have feedback or suggestions with respect to the women’s only swim or new programs or services you would like to see implemented by the Athletics department, please email


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