George Gate

George Gate coaching poolside in 1970
George Frederick Gate
Born: December 11, 1924 (Carlisle, Cumberland, England)
Died: August 17, 2014 (Pierrefonds, Quebec)

Canadian Aquatic Hall of Fame (1982)
Canada’s Sports Hall of Fame (1983)
B.C. Sports Hall of Fame (1986)
International Swimming Hall of Fame (1989)
Order of Canada (2010)

George Gate was the greatest swimming coach in Canadian history.

He developed 33 swimmers who competed at the Olympics, the Commonwealth Games, the Pan American Games, or at world championships. As well, 14 of his swimmers became nationally-ranked coaches, including three who were Olympic coaches.

George Gate (swim coach portrait)His success is a most unlikely story for a man whose early working life included being a seaman, a logger and a mail-order clerk.

Gate was a Northern England swimming champion in his homeland before joining the Royal Navy in 1942 during the Second World War. He was assigned convoy escort duty, seeing action on the dangerous waters of the North Atlantic and the Pacific, as well as the Arctic Ocean on the run to Murmansk in the Soviet Union. After the war, he returned to England where he won county swimming championships.

His ambition was to become a forester in New Zealand. On his way, he took a logging job on Vancouver Island, where he suffered a serious head and hand injury. He was recuperating at Crystal Pool in Vancouver when swim coach Percy Norman encouraged him to become an assistant coach. He also got a job as a mail-order clerk by Simpsons-Sears.

In 1952, Gate was hired to be pool manager at a company town run by Pacific Mills Ltd. The town was Ocean Falls on the coast 480 kilometres north of Vancouver. It was accessible only by boat or plane, and was known as the rainiest inhabited place in Canada. Not surprisingly, the pool was the centre of recreational life. The Ocean Falls Amateur Swim Club became a force on the national and international scene, as Gate developed such notable national team swimmers as Allen, Ron and Sandy Gilchrist, Jack kelso, Lenora Fisher, Richard (Dick) Pound (a future International Olympic Committee executive board member), and Ralph Hutton, who would win 24 medals at the Olympic, Commonwealth and Pan-Am Games.

Hutton and Sandy Gilchrist especially benefited from Gate’s innovative techniques, according to sports historian Jack G. Kelso. “He was the first Canadian coach to realize the importance of streamlined swimming, so he changed the flat-style of freestyle to a rolling, long-axis rotation style, accommodating a more relaxed recovery and a longer, stronger pulling technique,” Kelso wrote. “The six-beat kick in freestyle was the dominant kicking sequence at that time, but he decided that for distance swimmers two- and four-beat kicking was a good idea and he subsequently initiated this tempo change.” Hutton and Gilchrist were two of the four members of the Canadian men’s swim team at the 1964 Olympics.

Gate was an assistant coach at the 1954 British Empire and Commonwealth Games in Vancouver, at which seven Ocean falls swimmers competed, before becoming the national swim team coach for the 1963 Pan-Am Games at São Paulo, Brazil.

In 1964, he left Ocean Falls and its 4,000 residents to become coach of the Montreal Amateur Athletic Association, moving two years later to Pointe Claire swim club in a Montreal suburb, from which he would retire in 1998.

In 1968, he coached the Olympic team and was on hand as Hutton won a silver medal in the 400-metre freestyle, Canada’s first individual Olympic swimming medal in 48 years.

As his pupils from Ocean Falls once dominated Canadian swimming, so, too, now did his protégés from Pointe-Claire, Que. Among his more prominent successes were Peter Szmidt, John Hawes, Tom Arusoo, Anne Jardin, Julie Daigneault, Chantal Venne and Wendy Quirk.

Gate served as national swim coach at the 1973 world championships at Belgrade, Yugoslavia, and hge was twice coach of the Canadian squad at the Maccabian Games (1977, ’88).

Gate was honoured with induction into several halls of fame, including the International Swimming Hall of Fame in 1989, culminating in his being invested into the Order of Canada in 2010.


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