White-Headed Saviors | The Journal of Montreal

Increasing numbers of retirees have been called to the rescue to make up for the glaring shortage of lifeguards at Quebec’s swimming pools and other water features.

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“I immersed myself in my teenage world,” sums up Marie Laforest, 53 years old. This is the first time I’ve seen lifeguards with white heads. »

Since January, the mother, who was a homemaker, has returned to her youth job by working at Sopiar, a company that provides lifeguards for the water sports centers of Beloeil, Sainte-Julie and Chambly in Montérégie.

Since 2021, the company has been offering retiree-only training, allowing these watersports centers to maintain generous time slots despite lifeguard shortages across Quebec.

The Lifesaving Society of Quebec estimates that 2,000 are missing Lifeguard. The labor shortage that already existed before the COVID-19 pandemic has worsened with the cancellation of the training for young lifeguards for health reasons. Teenagers are therefore less numerous near swimming pools.


When the first cohort of pensioners found themselves on the lifeguard chairs in autumn 2021, several bathers were surprised, reports Sopiar’s water manager, Carine Poulin.

“People said to us, ‘Is that a white head? Is he allowed to do that?” “

Then “one thing led to another,” things snowballed and other retirees raised their hands.

In other cities, recruitment initiatives for this population are multiplying, confirms Raynald Hawkins, director general of the Quebec Lifesaving Society.

“It’s not uncommon to say of watersports centers, ‘I don’t have lifeguards during the day,'” he says, explaining that these older workers are helping to fill in the gaps in the schedules left by students coming to school have to go.

In top form

Solange Bédard, 62, and her husband François Paré, 64, embarked on the adventure after realizing their grandson’s swimming lessons had been canceled due to a lack of lifeguards.

“I said to myself, ‘It doesn’t make sense that there are no more lifeguards.’ We keep hearing that there is drowning,” explains the pensioner from the health network.

As with all senior lifeguards to whom The newspaper said the couple are in great shape.

Sylvie Rossignol, 66, believes the tests required to become a lifeguard aren’t for everyone.

Sylvie Rossignol

Photo Martin Alari

Sylvie Rossignol

“For an older person, the demands are enormous,” explains the former manager, who works at Granby and Cowansville Swimming Pools in the Eastern Townships.

She found it particularly challenging to complete the 50-meter sprint with her head above water. Others said it was just as tedious to retrieve a 20-pound rock from the deep end of the pool.

Sépaq also suffers from a deficiency

“Swim at your own risk”: The Society of Outdoor Establishments of Quebec (Sépaq) is required to post this warning on a growing number of its beaches.

“Due to the difficulty of recruiting lifeguards, supervised swimming at the Lac-Kénogami tourist center has been discontinued in recent years [2019]in the Mastigouche Game Reserve [2020] and in Mont Tremblant National Park [2021]. Pointe-Taillon National Park could be added to that list this summer,” said Sépaq spokesman Simon Boivin.

The state-owned company is not spared from the lifeguard shortage.

“The remoteness of certain facilities and the need to live temporarily on-site in some locations sometimes make hiring lifeguards for Sépaq difficult,” claims Mr. Boivin.

No promotion

The government hopes to hire 60 lifeguards this summer at the 10 of 46 facilities offering supervised swimming.

Sépaq also advises visitors not to swim in unsupervised areas.

With so much at stake right now that one of Quebec’s most beautiful beaches, that of Pointe-Taillon National Park on the shores of Lac Saint-Jean, will see less promotion this summer. .

“What I was told last week is that we are not promoting the beach because we cannot find lifeguards,” said Quebec Public and Parastatal Services Union Vice President Maryse Rousseau, who represents Sépaq employees.

The director general of the Quebec Lifesaving Society, Raynald Hawkins, recalls that less than 1% of drownings took place in supervised locations and that over the past year there have been some in locations that were unattended due to a lack of lifeguards.


Even though all Sépaq employees will be offered a $2.50 hourly bonus this summer, Ms. Rousseau regrets that her lifeguards are paid less than elsewhere.

The Journal easily found jobs for $20 an hour, while Sépaq’s starting hourly wage is $15.17 an hour before bonus.

She wants to be there canadian dean


Sylvie Rossignol66, dreams of being Canada’s oldest lifeguard.

“It’s a challenge. It shows me that despite my age, I’m still in good shape,” said the Cowansville resident.

She graduated as a lifeguard in Quebec in 2020 and now works at her city’s water sports center, but sometimes also in Granby.

“I would like that, but it seems that there are people older than me,” she adds.

Verification completed, oldest qualified lifeguard in Canada is 80 years old and is located in Ontario.

For the 60-year-old, this position is a pension project.

“Swimming is my favorite sport. I’ve spent my life in a swimming pool,” says the man who was mainly involved in artistic swimming at the time.

But unlike other lifeguards her age, she hasn’t been able to benefit from retiree training.

“We integrate a group of very young people, aged 16 or 17, and I was 64. It’s not quite the same dynamic. The young people are very hospitable, but it took motivation,” she summarizes.

A couple from Iron Man The chairs high


As long as Bedard62, started working as a lifeguard in the fall of 2021. She “loved” the experience so much that it inspired her husband Francois Pare64, who will emulate him next fall.

The couple, who have competed in multiple Ironman triathlons, had no trouble qualifying for lifeguard certification, which required around 100 hours to complete.

“I always said to myself that when I retired I would sell running shoes. But when I saw Sopiar’s announcement, I said to myself: “Oh yes!”

Mr Paré believes that people his age are increasingly able to maintain exemplary form, opening the door to this type of employment for retirees.

“The 60 years of today are the 40 years of 20 years ago,” he explains. I can’t wait to be an elder, but it’s not tomorrow that I will be. »

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