Gus Ryder’s irrevocable link to water was established early in life when, as a young lad, he rescued two boys who had fallen through the ice of Toronto’s Grenadier Pond in 1916.
On that fateful day, the foundation of a legend was cast. Ryder, who died at the ripe age of 92, was a man who touched the lives of everyone who crossed his path, whether in his role as a swim coach, a teacher of handicapped children, a renowned handball player, prospector or businessman. But it is his role as founder and driving force behind the Lakeshore Swim Club that made his name.
“He taught me things that helped me live my life like the sun is going to come up tomorrow and that the tide will always turn” said Canada’s sweetheart, Marilyn Bell, shortly after Ryder’s death in 1991. “And he taught me not to be a quitter.”
Ryder used all his tools as a coach on that memorable day in 1954 when a little blond schoolgirl, Marilyn Bell, upstaged the American favourite Florence Chadwick to become the first person to swim across lake Ontario. Bell now acknowledges that there were times when only the will of her coach, urging and cajoling her on from the tiny support boat, Mipepa, kept her from faltering.
As a swim coach, Ryder was a master innovator and psychologist and, more than anything else, a father figure to the legion of swimmers who were fortunate to be tutored by the longtime Etobicoke native. “He was like a father to me” said Cliff Lumsdon, another former protégé and fellow Etobicoke sports Hall of Famer. “He had a bond with us.”
But more than anything else, it was his work with handicapped children that prompted the Government of Canada to award Gus Ryder the Order of Canada in 1975.