University of Victoria swimmer Craig Dagnall trains at the Commonwealth pool earlier this year. Commonwealth Place celebrates its 20th anniversary this weekend.

Saanich’s Commonwealth Place celebrates 20 years

Twenty years ago next Monday, ribbons were officially cut and the public got its first look inside the $22-million Commonwealth Place.

Twenty years ago next Monday (Nov. 25), ribbons were officially cut and the public got its first look inside the $22-million Commonwealth Place.

Built to host the aquatic events for the 1994 Commonwealth Games, the facility also filled a need for another rec facility – namely one with a pool – in Saanich.

“One of the reasons I ran in ’86 was I thought there needed to be a pool in western Saanich,” recalled Mayor Frank Leonard, who was a councillor at the time.

Then-mayor Murray Coell and Leonard spearheaded the push to get the facility built for the games.

“UVic didn’t want it. The City of Victoria didn’t want it. We eventually put together a package that was good for everybody; people were quite surprised it ended up in Saanich,” Leonard said.

Comparing it to the build-up to the 2010 Winter Olympics, Leonard said there was a lot of controversy and opposition to building a new venue, and it took him and Coell multiple attempts to convince council to support it.

“They thought it would lose tons of money. It was a big pool. Obviously it was going to lose money, rec centres don’t make money. But because of the competition aspect of it we were able to negotiate a legacy fund,” he said, and attract competitive divers and swimmers.

“I consider (Commonwealth Place) to be one of the highlights of my time in public life,” Leonard said. “It was touch and go for a while, but it has turned out to be just an incredible success.”

To mark the 20-year anniversary Saanich admission prices on Saturday (Nov. 23) drop to what they were in 1993.

There will be cake on both Friday (10:30 a.m. in the lobby) and Saturday (1:30 p.m. on the pool deck).

kslavin@saanichnews.com