MERAW, Ann Mundigel

Author Tags: Sports, Women

Long distance swimmer Annabelle "Ann" Meraw, was born as Annabelle Mundigel on February 23, 1917 in Powell River, B.C. She began making long distance swims at Britannia Beach when she was ten. She competed for the Vancouver Amateur Swim Club and turn professional in 1934.

On July 28, 1938, she became a local hero when she swam 22 km. from Vancouver to Bowen Island. According to historian Chuck Davis, the Province newspaper reported the 19-year-old was “clad in black trunks and a light woollen, apple-green singlet, well greased, with ears plugged . . . and slipped off the boat-house float at English Bay at nine in the morning.” Her brother Jack guided her towards the best currents with information gained from the Union Steamship Company. Her parents escorted her in a second rowboat. During her seven-hour, 15-minute swim, she had one chocolate bar. Meraw told Chuck Davis many years later that she had removed her swimsuit and handed it to her mother in the escorting rowboat soon after beginning her swim and proceeded naked, covered in lard, for most of the way. She put her bathing suit back on when she neared a cheering crowd of well-wishers at Snug Cove.

As Canada's first female lifeguard, she founded the Canadian "water babies" swimming program. She established a world endurance record when she swam for 25 hours and one minute. She established a world speed record when she swam 51.2 km. in 16 hours and 14 minutes. On her third attempt, she successfully swam across Okanagan Lake. She was unable to complete her attempt to swim across Juan de Fuca Strait. A swimming coach until 1961, she was inducted into the BC Sports Hall of Fame in 1985. She wrote a memoir entitled Marathon Swimmer (Maple Ridge: Waite Publishing, 2004).


Marathon Swimmer (Maple Ridge: Waite Publishing, 2004).

[BCBW 2006] "Sports" "Women"

Ann Meraw

from Government of B.C.
Ann Mundigel Meraw had the perfect attitude for a marathon swimmer. "I felt I could swim as far as I could see," she once said. And that's exactly what she did. During 30 years of competition, Mundigel Meraw set seven world records, four of which still stand unbroken.

Born in Powell River, Mundigel Meraw learned to swim when she was just one, after falling off of a log into a local lake. By the age of 10, she was one of the youngest swimmers to complete the 10 miles (16.1 kilometres) across Howe Sound and back. At 13, she conquered Burrard Inlet. By age 17, Mundigel Meraw was looking for tougher competition, so she turned professional. She became a member of the World Professional Marathon Swimming Federation and swam the CNE Toronto Marathon in both 1934 and 1936.

When she decided to battle the strong tidal currents in Howe Sound by swimming from Vancouver to Bowen Island, critics said it couldn’t be done. Despite losing her bathing suit along the way, Mundigel Meraw completed the treacherous 14 miles (22.5 kilometres) in seven hours and 14 minutes and remains the only person to have completed that route. "I did not want to be torpedoed," explained Mundigel Meraw when, because of World War II, she gave up on a plan to swim the English Channel.

Although the war had intervened on one plan, Mundigel Meraw found another way to break records as she earned the distinction of becoming Canada's first female lifeguard. In 1945, she started the Water Babies Program, another first for Canada. During this time she had her son, Bill, and still maintained her rigorous training regimen.

In 1956, she felt ready to swim Okanagan Lake, an 88.5-kilometre (55-mile) journey from Kelowna to Penticton. She didn’t complete the distance but did establish a women's world endurance record, and learned a valuable nutritional lesson as she lost 17 pounds during the 25-hour swim. On her second attempt the following year, she swam 51.5 kilometres (32 miles) in 16 hours and 14 minutes, setting both the women's and open world speed records.

Undaunted by her failures to cross the lake, she tried again and, in 1958, Mundigel Meraw emerged from the water with four new records. By completing the 88.5 kilometres in 32 hours and 12 minutes, she now had the women's and open world distance and endurance records. These amazing marks remain unbroken to this day. She also remains the only person to ever swim around Stanley Park.

Mundigel Meraw ended her swimming career in 1961. She taught school for a short time, then moved to a full time position with the Vancouver parks board to teach all levels of swimming, from preschoolers to firemen, before retiring in 1980.

Mundigel Meraw also had a splash on the small screen, when she became a technical advisor on the CBC TV series, The Beachcombers. She also served as the double for actress Juliet Randall in the show's swim scenes.

She encourages anybody to get involved in swimming at any level. She maintains it is the best exercise going and continues to stay fit in her golden years.

Mundigel Meraw currently keeps busy managing the Ridge Meadows Hall of Fame, of which she is a founding member. She is the president of her strata council and captain of the Blockwatch program for her neighborhood. She recently received a Star Award from the local fire department for climbing through a window and extinguishing a blaze.