While the City of Yellowknife plans on building a new aquatic centre, some will not soon forget the woman behind the name of the current pool – Ruth Inch.
Jennifer Inch, the youngest of Ruth’s five children, remembers her mother as an avid volunteer, sports fan, and brave woman who loved language and had a sense of humour.
“Mom loved Shakespeare, she loved literature, she knew her stuff,” Jennifer said, recalling her mother correcting her grammar at the dinner table.
“She was very quick-witted. She was funny.”
Ruth Nuss was raised in Alberta. After secretarial school she moved to Yellowknife, where her older sister was living, to work as a secretary for Curry Construction. On a double date in February 1956, Ruth met her husband – a geologist with Giant Mine named Art Inch.
Jennifer said her parents were married not long after that blind date, in June 1956. Ruth gave birth to her first daughter, Judy, in July 1957.
“People didn’t waste time in those days. They just find the right one, you get on with it,” Jennifer laughed.
As the couple grew their family and built a life in Yellowknife, they became fixtures in the community. Jennifer said her mother worked with the Girl Guides, Sport North and the YWCA, and volunteered with the swimming and skating clubs.
“She pretty-much could have worked anywhere because she had some pretty wicked skills,” Jennifer said.
“I have peers that I went through school with that were skaters. And when mom died, a couple of them came forward and said, ‘You know, we really miss your mom, because we told your mom stuff we couldn’t tell our moms.'”
Jennifer went on to become a swim coach. She said her love of swimming led to her mom’s dedication to the sport as a volunteer.
Before the age of emails and social media, Ruth would sit at the table with a cup of coffee and, using a rotary phone, call around town to find volunteers for swim meets. Jennifer said she used those same skills when her own daughter became a swimmer.
“I learned at the knee of the best,” she said.
At swim meets as a kid, Jennifer remembers her mother and other volunteers working on event cards, heat sheets, and tags for ribbons.
“As the results were happening, they were sitting in the backroom at the pool with two typewriters going nuts typing,” she recalled. “It was amazing amounts of work, and they just did it.
“For the kids to see the adults putting that effort in… you didn’t skip practice.”
Despite the work, Ruth found time to cheer for her daughter.
“I remember being probably 12, in breaststroke, coming in for a turn halfway through a race. There’s my mother hanging over the end of the pool. ‘Come on! Go!'” Jennifer said.
It was important to Ruth that all of her children learn to be strong swimmers, Jennifer said, as one of her friends had died in a boating accident in Alberta. But Ruth herself never learned how to swim.
“That’s the fun part. The pool is named after a non-swimmer,” she said.
In the fall of 1986, Jennifer had graduated high school and was upgrading some courses when her mother had a heart attack. Ruth died in hospital at the age of 56 on September 21.
“Don’t smoke. Fifty-six is too young to die, it really is,” Jennifer said.
At the time, the city had recently built a new pool. When the swim club proposed naming it after Ruth, the city and her family agreed.
“That was mom’s honour,” Jennifer said. “The things she had done over the years, the people she had helped over the years, and the fact that she herself would have said, ‘Oh, but that’s nothing. Everybody does that.’”
Jennifer noted there were many community members who contributed to the swimming club and other organizations in Yellowknife.
“There’s just so many stories like that of people that did so many things.”
After more than 30 years, the City of Yellowknife says the Ruth Inch Memorial Pool is coming to the end of its lifespan.
Jennifer said it’s her dream for a library to be named after her mother. But no matter the new aquatic centre’s name or the existing building’s future, Ruth Inch’s memory will live on.
“She was my mom, and she’ll always be my mom, no matter what is or isn’t named after her,” Jennifer said.
“If somebody’s got a legacy, they’ve got a legacy. And it doesn’t have to be on a building.”