Solo Swims of Ontario Inc.

Hall of Fame

Cliff Lumsdon
A World Champion and
A Canadian Pioneer

Cliff Lumsdon was one of the world's greatest long distance swimmers. He was five-time world champion between 1949 and 1954. He was known for his ability to swim in cold water, once going 32 miles in 18-plus hours in water temperatures ranging between 48 and 52 degrees Fahrenheit.

In 1949, he won the Lou Marsh Trophy, for the outstanding Canadian Athlete of the Year. Cliff was introduced into the Canadian Sports Hall of Fame in 1976, and the Ontario Aquatic Hall of Fame in 1993, he received the Order of Ontario in 1989, and was a recipient of the Order of Canada in 1982. He passed away on 31st August 1991.

The Cliff Lumsdon Award is presented for outstanding achievement in marathon swimming in association with Solo Swims of Ontario.

In 1991, the Municipality of Toronto named a park after him at the foot of Fifth Street in Etobicoke, Ontario where Cliff and his family lived. A plaque was erected by the Municipality in recognition of Cliff's many achievements and contributions to the community.

While many of Cliff's greatest swims were in Lake Ontario (see Statistics below), he never swam across the lake. His most famous swim was in 1955 - the year after Marilyn Bell's inaugural crossing. The 32-mile swim was planned as a cross-lake event, but a forecast of poor weather prevented a swim in the open lake - so a triangular course was set-up inside the breakwater in front of the Canadian National Exhibition (CNE). The 35 starters gradually dropped out, until Cliff was the only one left in the water; however, after 26 miles, he had also started to tire. The remaining six miles involved lots of media involvement - leading local businessmen to add numerous extra items to the $15,000 first prize. One offer, involving $1 for every stroke used on the last 5 miles, added another $15,000 to the prize. Other offers involved a hunting lodge and a house. The result was that Cliff was the only finisher, with prizes, gifts (Hunting lodge and house), and consumer endorsements that totalled $84,000 !

His cold-water abilities were reflected in his 1956, 11 hour 35 minute crossing of the Straits Juan de Fuca. The waters in this stretch of water, between Washington state and Vancouver Island, are reported to average 48F through late July and August, with peak temperatures into the low 50s. Cliff was the second person to cross the straits, after Bert Thomas crossed it in July 1955. In his book Wind, Waves, and Sunburn: A brief history of marathon swimming, Conrad Wennerberg notes that the straits of Juan de Fuca were attempted 80 times before Bert Thomas made his successful crossing.

Cliff Lumsdon recorded an amazing 16 years of top-class, international, competitive swimming from 1948 to 1964; however, he should be remembered equally for the support he and his wife, Joan, gave to Solo Swims of Ontario and to so many swimmers such as Marilyn Bell, Diana Nyad, Marilyn Korzekwa, their daughter Kim, and so many others.


Atlantic City, New Jersey, 22 mile (35.2 km) Professional Swim:
1954  Second    9:25:10
1955  Second    9:56:25
1956  First     9:51:00  winning by two seconds over Tom Park.
1958  Second   12:09:00
1959  First    10:54:05
1960  Second   10:40:07
1961 Third 11:36:35 1962 Second 12:01:10 1963 Fourth 12:13:16 1964 Fourth 10:32:50
Canadian National Exhibition Professional Swims, Toronto: 1948 10 Miles Fifth 4:47:16 1949 15 Miles First 7:54:55 - $6,300 1950 15 Miles First 7:18:05 1951 10 Miles Third 4:32:28 1952 10 Miles First 4:24:06 - $5,150 1953 10 Miles First 4:26:46 - $5,150 1955 32 Miles Inshore swim but heralded as Across Lake Ontario 19:48:09 The only finisher in a field of 35 starters. $84,000 total purse. 1961 15 Miles Fourth 7:36:20 1962 15 Miles Second 7:26:30 1963 15 Miles Sixth 7:58:45

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Created: 1st October 2000
Last Updated: 16th February 2019