Staff recall fondly the good old days of Victoria Park pool

Old Victoria Park facility was so popular its water would turn black in a week because it was usually standing room only for 'swimmers'

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 03 September, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 03 September, 2013, 4:07am

The old Victoria Park public pool had a glorious history of having hosted many major water sports events, but few know it also had a past of having dirt-black water and frequent chlorine leaks.

After its last day in service on Sunday, pool staff gathered to share stories of the 56-year-old swimming facility.

Former filtration plant employee Chan Moon, 92, spoke of the summer peak season in the 1950s and 1960s: "The whole pool would have turned black by the end of the week from people's sweat and body dirt."

At the time, there were neither crowd control nor breaks to clean the pool in the day, he explained.

"We had about 6,000 to 7,000 swimmers a day. It was so crowded that people could only stand in the pool and had no space to swim," he said.

The facility was Hong Kong's first public swimming pool and the last one that still used chlorine to treat its water. All other public pools in the city use ozone for water treatment.

"We had chlorine leaks all the time," said Chan, who worked at the complex when it opened in 1957 until 1972, when he transferred to the then-new Morrison Hill swimming pool.

"We weren't sure how to control the system at first. When the pool was crowded and the water became filthy, the machine would slow down and boil over," he said. "We had to adjust the machine whenever we smelled the leaking chlorine, which made us cough."

Although Chan said the leaks were not harmful and he was also not opposed to his son following his footsteps in becoming a filtration plant worker, he suspected they could have contributed to his lung collapse a few years ago.

With the facility's closure, chlorine treatment in public pools has become history in Hong Kong. The new indoor pool, built next to the old one and which will open on September 16, will treat its water with ozone.

Victoria Park manager Pang Tak-chiu said the door to the chlorine storage pool, which bears a "danger" sign, will be kept. The Leisure and Cultural Services Department may also display in Victoria Park the plaque unveiled by former governor Sir Alexander Grantham and the stonework of the low wall facing the public entrance.

In addition to the open days yesterday and today, the department will open the old pool for public visits from 9am to 9pm this Saturday and Sunday.

Former senior amenities assistant Chung Shui-pang, 66, recalled the daily pain of counting coins from entrance fees before machines took over the task.

It was the city's first public pool to use coin machines to collect entrance fees, he said.

The facility used to be the venue for major swimming, diving and other water sports events, but these were later moved to newer pools such as the Kowloon Park swimming complex which opened in 1989.

Now, with the new, modern pool nearby, Pang said Asian and even world-class water sports events were expected to return to the park.

The new indoor complex, which cost about HK$800 million to build, features the city's largest swimming pool spectator stand, with 2,500 seats.

It has a multi-purpose pool and a main pool, both of which have a movable floor to adjust the depth of the water for different purposes. The pools are also heated so they can be used all year round.