Date: 1954

Origin: CNE Archives

In 1954, a 16-year old high school student named Marilyn Bell became a sensation when she became the first person to swim across Lake Ontario.

She became an instant celebrity, beloved by fans across Canada. It all began on September 8th, when three swimmers began a 32 kilometer race from Youngstown, New York to the CNE grounds. American marathon swimmer Florence Chadwick was the favourite, followed by Canadian swimmer Winnie Roach Leuszler; Marilyn was the underdog. It became clear early in the race that she was a contender, remaining in the water after her competitors dropped out. Newspapers covered her every stroke through the cold waves of Lake Ontario. After 21 hours, Marilyn made it ashore to the acclaim of the nation. The following year, Marilyn was the star of the CNE‚ Canadiana, Grandstand show, sharing the stage with American television host Ed Sullivan. The highlight of the show was Marilyn diving into a specially designed tank of water on stage.