At age 36, John Jaremey became the second person, and the first man, to swim across Lake Ontario. At that time 21 other men had attempted the Lake and failed !
A steamfitter from Toronto, Ontario, his swim took place on 22nd-23rd July 1956, from Niagara-on-the-Lake to Toronto, and he completed it in 21 hours 13 minutes, landing at the Eastern Gap lighthouse.
Seen here 38 years later with Marilyn Bell at the Niagara Plaque dedication, he was still a spritely 74-year-old.
In 2004, John was elected into the Ontario Aquatic Hall of Fame. The following summary of his career (compiled by Marilyn Korzekwa) was submitted in support of his election:
John was born in Port Arthur (now Thunder Bay), Ontario on May 1, 1920. His father had emigrated from Ukraine where he used to swim across the Dniester River. John is the only one of five children who went on to a swimming career. He told a story of racing his brothers in the creek at the family farm. When he wanted to quit, his brothers told him he was a big boy and had to keep swimming. When John moved to Toronto, he worked as a steamfitter foreman. He trained hard daily at John Innes Memorial Pool and Harrison's Bath in the winter. He would quit work from the end of April until Labour Day and train at Lakes Wilcox and Simcoe until Lake Ontario got warm enough. John's only son, Chester, recalls his Dad swimming in Lake Ontario all day long while Chester walked back and forth on the boardwalk. John was a member of the professional swimming circuit in Toronto, and often finished in the top 5, earning enough prize money to support his family through the summer. His favourite diet was steak and mushrooms (picked on the grounds of the Canadian National Exhibition, CNE) for breakfast and supper.
Although John had planned the swim across Lake Ontario for about a month, few people knew about the swim because he was afraid they would be ashamed of him if he didn't make it. His wife Mary said, "there had been so many heartbreaks" in his professional swimming career. This time he told Mary, "I'm going to swim the lake if it kills me." With his excellent coach, Pat Roach, and navigator, Captain Harvey Randle, accompanying him, the blonde 195 lb swimmer entered Lake Ontario on July 22 at 5:47 a.m. He was half way across by noon. The conditions were ideal, although the water temperature fell to 58 °F near the end. When he got tired, he thought of beating Marilyn Bell's record. He also thought, "John, don't quit, that little girl made it. You're a big man, come on, let's go." He had a lot of trouble with his goggles leaking and his eyes "really hurt" near the end. His muscles were aching and his stomach cramped up and he felt like quitting just before he saw the large searchlight his union brothers had rigged up on shore. Then he knew he would finish. To the cheering of 12,000 spectators, he touched the Eastern Gap wall at 3:02 a.m. on July 23, 1956, tired and happy. Afterwards, John told reporters he was amused by two things. One was that he "hadn't seen any of the eels that are supposed to bite you". Secondly, he had "lost his shirt" in a propellor in a boating mishap after the swim was over.
Prior to his cross-lake swim, John had swum in the 1950 15-mile CNE race, placing eighth in a time of 10 hours 5 minutes 15 seconds - a race which the legendary Cliff Lumsdon won in 7:18:05.
John continued on the professional circuit, including the 26 mile Atlantic City race until 1960. He continued to swim regularly until he had a stroke while swimming in the pool 10 years ago (1992). His son says, "He was one of the first to believe that regular exercise is good in itself". "He taught me to swim and he taught me to exercise regularly for the fun of it." His wife said, "He's a very determined guy".
John died in Toronto on 26th July 2002.
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Ontario Aquatic Hall of Fame
Created: 5th October 1999
Last Updated: 8th March 2004