Toronto’s ‘Baywatch’: A look back at our own David Hasselhoffs
The glorious history of Toronto’s beach watchers just in time for the new Baywatch movie
The cast and crew of Baywatch, including buff star David Hasselhoff, have been patrolling our TV screens — and, as of this May, our movie theatres — since 1989, but Toronto’s lifeguards have been keeping the city’s waterways safe since the 1800s.
Toronto’s shorelines are patrolled by the Toronto Police Lifeguard Service, which traces its roots back to the Commissioners of the Harbour of Toronto, incorporated in 1850. At the time, the commissioners were primarily responsible for harbour safety in the form of harbour markers, lighting and life-saving (they purchased their first life-saving boat in 1857).
Life-saving services within the harbour were left to volunteer crews until 1912, when the first paid life-saving crew — jointly funded by the federal government and the city — went on duty.
In 1920, the Toronto Life Saving & Police Patrol Service came into being, with a staff of lifeguards, patrol officers, engineers, motorboat operators and other personnel. By the ’50s, continuous harbour patrols were put into effect, and in 1960 a scuba diving unit was formed.
In addition to hiring and training lifeguard crews for areas such as Toronto’s beaches, Toronto Island and outdoor pools near the harbour, the service performed numerous other duties, including water rescues, searching for missing people, retrieving stolen watercraft and escorting dignitaries. The winter months were occupied by repairing equipment, monitoring ice conditions in the harbour and performing rescues.
Nowadays, Toronto’s lifeguard services are provided by 93 personnel (80 lifeguards and 13 head lifeguards) who supervise the city’s seven main beaches from mid-May until Labour Day.
They might not have the name recognition of Dwayne Johnson or Zac Efron (both starring in the new Baywatch movie), but Toronto’s hard-working lifeguards are heroes in their own right and are deserving of appreciation.
Lifeguards on the job in the ’50s at the Leuty Lifeguard Station in the Beaches
Lifeguards have long been a presence on the beaches of Toronto watching out for swimmers as well as potential boating accidents