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Vaughan Baird: a pioneer for Canadian aquatic sports

Words such as passionate, tireless and visionary have been used to describe Vaughan Baird, a founding director of the Aquatic Federation of Canada and former member of the Canadian Olympic Committee, who died Aug. 17 in Ste. Agathe, Man. He was 86.

The Winnipeg lawyer, who was named to the Order of Canada in 1992, was a founder of the Aquatic Hall of Fame and Museum of Canada in Winnipeg. He is credited with being an inspiration to a generation of divers and a guardian of Canadian aquatic history.

“We need and rely on people like Vaughan Baird,” said David de Vlieger, president of Swimming Canada. “He was a tireless supporter of aquatics in Canada.

“Canadian sport cannot survive without the work and dedication of people like him.”  Marcel Aubut, president of the Canadian Olympic Committee, praised Baird’s contribution to sport. “The sport of diving in this country has been permanently strengthened as a direct result of Vaughan Baird,” Aubut said. “His contribution, from the grass roots level all the way up to Canada’s Olympic movement, has left a lasting legacy from which Canadian athletes in and out of the pool will benefit for generations to come.”

Pierre Lafontaine, the former chief executive officer and national coach of Swimming Canada, remembers spending three hours at Baird’s home.

“The man was so passionate about preserving and celebrating aquatics in Canada,” said Lafontaine, now chief executive officer of Canadian Interuniversity Sport. “The details of his passion for aquatics, not just diving, was brilliant.”

Scott Cranham, Diving Canada’s high performance director, said Baird’s vision for Canadian aquatic sports was far ahead of many countries.

“He changed the lives of many through his tireless efforts, his persistence and willingness to fight until the end,” Cranham wrote on a quest book posted by the chapel handling the funeral arrangements.

“His passion for the art of diving will be truly missed but the legacy he left behind will not be forgotten. My sincere thanks to Vaughan for dramatically changing the opportunities I was given as an athlete and beyond.”

Baird was born in Winnipeg on Sept. 6, 1927. He attended the University of Manitoba and Dalhousie Law School. As a university undergraduate Baird was a swimming and diving champion. He became a boxing champion while attending Dalhousie. Between 1964 and 1990 Baird was an internationally renowned diving judge. He worked at four Commonwealth Games, world championships, Olympic and Pan American Games. He also was a founding director and solicitor of the Commonwealth Games Association of Canada and served as the organization’s vice president from 1979 to 1990.

Prior to 1968, diving, swimming, synchronized swimming and water polo all came under the umbrella of the Canadian Amateur Swimming Association. Baird became the founding chairman of the Canadian Amateur Diving Association and worked toward each of the four sports being given autonomy within the Aquatic Federation of Canada.

“In 1968, we got our charter from Ottawa and we were all put under the AFC as equal partners and we have all flourished under it,” Baird said in a 2010 interview with the Winnipeg Free Press. Baird was a COC member from 1969-72 and a board member of FINA, the international governing body for aquatic sports. He was named the Air Canada Sports Executive of the Year in 1971, was awarded the Silver Jubilee medal for his contribution to sport, and is a member of the Manitoba Sports Hall of Fame.

Baird was a founding member of the Manitoba Sports Federation and helped crusade for the construction of the Pan-Am Pool in Winnipeg.

For years the Aquatic Hall of Fame and Museum of Canada was located in the Pan-Am Pool but it closed in 2006 in a dispute with the city. Baird, the museum’s long-time chairman, launched a civil suit against the city over the closure. The matter has yet to be settled.

As a lawyer, Baird argued language rights cases before the Supreme Court of Canada. In 1981 he defended Pierre Forest in the first trial conducted in French in Manitoba in 90 years.

He also was an author of many books, including “A Canadian History of the Art and Sport of Diving.” The high regard in which Baird was held within the sports community may have been summarized by Margie Schuett, former chef de mission for both the Commonwealth Games and World Aquatic Championships and one-time vice-president with both Diving Canada and Synchro Canada.

“Vaughan Baird was a man of conviction and substance and a man who was fearless in his promotion of aquatics and of his friends in sport,” Schuett wrote on the guest book. “We are all better people for having Vaughan represent the community we all love so much. RIP my friend, and thank you for being you.”

Credits to: with files from Swimming Canada and Diving Canada

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