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INDUCTEE 2013 - BUILDER - Bill Bell-Bathgate


Pioneer Builder of Sport and Recreation

Recreation Director 1956-1968

From 1948-1968

In 1952 the Wetaskiwin City Council set up the Wetaskiwin Recreation Commission.  After three different Recreation Directors, Bill Bell-Bathgate was hired in 1956.  He was thirty-two years-old and held the position for eleven years, resigning in 1968.  Although he had no formal training he had been involved in sports in Wetaskiwin (coached hockey, refereed hockey, started a football team), knew there was a lot of sport talent in the city and had the leadership qualities necessary for the job.

When Bill became the Recreation Director, the Kinsmen outdoor swimming pool had just opened, the city had approved money for improving the Recreation Hall and the Recreation Commission was in it’s fourth year of existence.  Under Bill’s leadership the Recreation Commission took over minor hockey, minor baseball, swimming, tennis (1958), ski club (1959), and introduced many new programs including soccer in 1957 and fitness classes in 1959.  Also, Bill set up and chaired a Pony League, baseball for younger kids.  Minor hockey and minor baseball before that time were looked after by local businessmen and Bill wanted to have all recreational activities “under one roof”.  Fifty different groups used the old Rec Hall, First Aid  as well as many other courses were offered and Bill himself was involved with the Cubs.

Trained leadership from top to bottom was important to Bill.  Once he was hired, he himself enrolled in a course for Recreation Directors that involved a six month correspondence course and two weeks of study at the University of Alberta. In his first year he sent three leaders to the Provincial Playground Supervisors Course, two leaders to the Provincial Recreation Leaders School, three leaders to the Alberta Camping Conference and five leaders to a week long course for swimming and water safety instructors.  During Bill’s tenure he always made sure he and his staff were qualified, well trained and continued to upgrade.

Bill worked closely with Al Arner and Ralph Pocock, two other Wetaskiwin and County Sports Hall of Fame inductees.  Bill was really a “hands on” guy. It was with Al Arner and Dr. Stephan Casey that they physically, with a borrowed cat from Street-Robbins-Morrow, made ski runs in readying the ski hill for use in the winter (1959).  Every spring, Bill also did the physical maintenance required with the both the Tennis Courts and the swimming pool .   He taught classes at the swimming pool, often helping the young instructors by “modeling teaching” for them.  He also did much of the examining for Red Cross and Royal Life Saving Society  swimming awards.   At the volleyball league games, he often refereed.   He made sure that the people of Wetaskiwin were informed as to what was going on in Recreation and often wrote columns for the Times.  Water safety demonstrations were held  at the swimming pool for the public at the annual Swimcade and other times.  Bill also attended year end banquets in all of the sports, giving out awards, speaking, etc.  Bill even subsidized the teams, not overtly, but by sliding money under the table when no one was looking.

Lessons were really important to Bill.  The first year he was the Recreation Director the pool offered FREE lessons for adult beginners.   The first class had sixty-six enrolled, the second class was sold out with 101 participants.  The free lessons continued the next year as well.  When the ski hill opened, on the week-ends in the middle of the afternoon the tow was stopped and everyone on the hill had ski lessons.  Bill also organized tennis lessons, saw that the golf club offered lessons to kids and  organized a baseball school.    School classes were brought to the swimming pool and the swimming pool staff gave lessons.  Bill wanted to make sure that everyone in Wetaskiwin knew how to swim!  In 1961 Bill, along with Dr. Maury Van Vliet from the U of A, talked to the Principal’s Association about Physical Education  in the schools and how that a couple of classes of PE per week were not enough.

 Bill advocated for a new arena when the existing arena was declared structurally inadequate in 1957.  It took three plebiscites before the community approved the building of a new arena.  Bill wrote articles in the Times giving the reasons for the new arena.  Once the arena was built, Bill made sure the facility was well used.  With his leadership and organization, comprehensive programs of minor hockey, figure skating and many other sporting events for all ages were arranged.

Bill was also keenly interested in many other sports and outdoor events in the area, and was always on hand to do his bit on civil defense exercises, at major fires and disasters and was an active and enthusiastic member of the Canadian Centennial Committee.  After Bill resigned he worked in Edmonton but still kept his residence in Wetaskiwin and remained a volunteer fireman with the City of Wetaskiwin.  In 1981 Bill returned to working for the City of Wetaskiwin as Fire Chief and held this position from 1981-1992. 

Even though being the Recreation Director was his job, Bill went above and beyond the “call of duty”.  He was well respected, well liked, set a fine example for youth and was always professional in his position of leadership.  At a Little League Banquet in 1958, Al Cawsey, one of the parents, expressed the appreciation of the parents and said that he felt that Wetaskiwin was far out in front of other communities in providing recreation and sports for its young people.  When Bill resigned the city council was in shock and regretfully accepted his decision. In both positions, Recreation Director and Fire Chief, Bill was a man dedicated to his job. On the internet, this is what appeared on a site where fire fighters were asked who influenced them the most.  One fellow said of Bill:  “Taught every guy the meaning of dedication, duty and selflessness. Gone now to be with God, but I guarantee there’s smoke detectors on every cloud in heaven”.

Bill was very important as one of the “pioneers” of organized sport and recreation in Wetaskiwin.  It is because of his leadership, organizational skills and dedication that Wetaskiwin has the facilities and programs of today.  He set the standard and we are honored to induct him into the Wetaskiwin and County Sports Hall of Fame.

Information about an inductee is collected from published sources, sports archives, scrapbooks, anecdotal information from family, friends and fans, and the athlete. 

However, sometimes the best stories and personal insights are gleaned at the induction dinner from the introductory comments or acceptance speech of the inductee or their representative. 

Where possible we have included this type of information for your enjoyment.

Read the opening comments made by Sandra Wright when introducing Bill Bell-Bathgate.





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