Birth: Toronto, Ontario, October 19, 1937
Career Highlights1954 - Swam 26-mile marathon in Atlantic City
1954 - First person to swim across Lake Ontario, in 20 hours and 58 minutes
1954 - Lou Marsh Trophy for Canada’s most outstanding athlete
1955 - Youngest person to swim the English Channel
1956 - Swam the Straights of Juan de Fuca
1993 - Cliff Lumsdon Award for outstanding achievement in solo marathon swimming
2003 - Named to Order of Ontario
On September 9, 1954, 16-year-old Marilyn Bell captured the hearts of Canadians from coast to coast. In 20 hours and 58 minutes, she swam 32 miles across the chilling waters of Lake Ontario, marking the first time such a feat had been accomplished. The incredible journey from Youngstown, New York to Toronto, Ontario, made her a national hero as media dubbed her ‘Toronto’s Sweetheart’.
Early on in her career, Bell’s coach Gus Ryder was quick to recognize that what the young swimmer lacked in speed, she made up for in endurance. By the age of 14, Bell was a veteran marathon swimmer who regularly placed high among senior competitors. In 1952, she won the Barker Bread Trophy for the amateur mile race at the Canadian National Exhibition swimming event, a triumph that gave her the confidence to move on to larger, more competitive races. In 1954, just before swimming across Lake Ontario, Bell gained fame for finishing a massive 26-mile swim in Atlantic City.
After recovering from the media hype that followed her famous Lake Ontario swim, Bell took on the challenge of crossing other bodies of water around the world. In 1955, in a time of 14 hours and 36 minutes, she became the youngest person to swim across the English Channel. In 1956, she crossed the treacherous Straits of Juan de Fuca in 10 hours and 39 minutes. Upon completing this “Everest of Swims,” Bell retired from the waters and stepped out of the limelight. Her awe-inspiring feats, however, have forged a lasting legacy among Canadians, and she will always be known as the ‘First Lady of the Lake’.