In the summer of 1951, 15-year-old Bob Wardle was a lifeguard at the pool in Brooks, Alta.,— but it was on a day off work that he rescued two-year-old Frankie Bates.
After hearing screams from the neighbour’s, Wardle ran to find that Bates had fallen 13 feet into a cistern. The water reservoir was topped with an 18-inch square opening leading into a three-foot chute and a 10-foot by five foot steel tank filled with ice-cold water.
Wardle jumped into action, directing the surrounding adults to lower him into the narrow opening. The cistern was completely full, and Bates had sunk to the bottom. Wardle dove down three times before his hand finally brushed Bates’ hair and brought her to the surface.
After 15 harrowing minutes of life-saving efforts by Wardle, Bates finally gasped for air.
Reflecting on the moment now, Wardle says he was “overwhelmed” when the toddler began to breathe. “No one knew what to do,” says Wardle. “And nobody else present had any rescue training.”
Wardle and Bates stayed in touch over the years, and Wardle and his wife, Phyllis, were even guests at Bates’ wedding.
In 2017, Bates passed away from cancer and Wardle and Phyllis attended her funeral.
To celebrate the 65 years she lived after almost drowning, Bates’ family established the Bates Wardle Award for Lifeguards in 2018. The award is given annually to two students ranging from age 12 to Grade 12 from Innisfail and Cochrane who are pursuing lifeguard training or certification and contribute to their community.
“It’s very important to help young people get lifeguard training because you never know when a crisis arises that requires assistance, and not just at a swimming pool,” says Wardle.
Wardle always wanted to be a lifeguard, but his interest grew even stronger when he began swimming competitively in the Brooks Swim Club. A family friend, who was also a local businessman, took notice of his efforts and paid for Wardle’s training.
Following the rescue, Wardle was awarded the Royal Life Saving Society’s inaugural Mountbatten Medal for his bravery.
Wardle says he thinks Bates would be “very proud” to know the award was created in their honour, knowing someone else could benefit as she did.
“We are all members of some community, and if you help anyone that you can, I’m sure when you need help, it will be there for you, too,” says Wardle.
Photos courtesy of Bob Wardle, Bates Family and Michael Bates; photo of Aubry Haldorson courtesy of Mountain View Publishing