Masterton’s first swimmers took to the river, the Waipoua River being the most popular swimming site for locals. The first organised swimming sports were held in the river in March 1882, when 200 spectators watched a number of suitably attired gentlemen and boys compete in a variety of straight and novelty events. The following year over 500 spectators watched the second sports.
In 1893 the first public swimming pool opened when soft drink maker A G Thompson built a pond on the Makoura Stream in Queen Street, near his factory.
When the Masterton Swimming Club was formed in 1900 it used the pool in the Waipoua River behind the cemetery, but cemetery visitors were upset at the sight of half-naked men and the club petitioned the borough council to build proper public pools. Their efforts failed, as did a further push when the council intended to make a pool on the river just downstream from the wool scouring works.
A ratepayer poll was taken and support given to a loan to build a swimming pool and other improvements to Masterton Park. The park alterations went ahead, including the park lake, a popular swimming area, but the bathing pool was still not constructed in 1907 when the Masterton School Committee asked that it be constructed near the school.
On New Year’s Day 1908 Mayor Coradine opened the new pool, built behind St Patrick’s Church. It was 24 m long and 12m wide, held 455,000 litres of water and was 2.3m deep at the deep end. It had only been open a few months when there was a call to build another pool for women and girls – mixed bathing was frowned upon.
Doctor William Hosking offered to fund the new pool, promising £500. His offer was accepted but when tenders were priced the pool was going to cost extra money. The council changed their plans, and the doctor changed his mind, using the money to purchase radium.
The Ladies Swimming Club lobbied Hosking and he agreed to sell an old cottage in Worksop Road, and his old steam car to raise funds for the baths. These realised £400 so a smaller pool was agreed on, and the site in Masterton Park confirmed. The Christina and Alice Memorial Baths were opened by Doctor Hosking on January 24 1910, his daughter Christina having the honour of being the first to take the plunge.
In 1939 borough engineer Cyril Mabson proposed the council should build an indoor pool, estimated to cost £19,000. The Second World War intervened before the plans could be presented to the public.
After the war Masterton decided to upgrade its northern entrance as its memorial to the fallen, the plans calling for an improved swimming pool and stadium to be built. The project was expected to cost about £40,000 and was started in 1946 with the expansion of the park lake.
Although there was general support for the plan, financing it proved difficult and in 1952 the project was re-energised with a major fundraising effort, following which new plans were drawn up. When these plans were costed they were too expensive, but after alterations the pools and stadium were commenced. The first concrete was poured in July 1955 but the complex was not officially opened until March 22 1958.
Interestingly enough, competition to the new pool came in the shape of a pool formed on the Waipoua River, just to the north of the new pools. Each summer local contractors constructed a boulder dam just upstream of the Queen Street bridge – for many years it was a popular swimming and picnicking spot – and it was free. Swimming in Masterton had gone full circle.