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Jack MacQuarrie

Jack MacQuarrie: 
Our First HHUC Scuba Diving Teacher and Hart House Underwater Club Pioneer

By Bob Belcher, NAUI 3836

At the 50th Anniversary Gala, it was very special for to meet and listen to hear stories of the early days from those who were there in the beginning way back in 1962:  Larry Lundy, Jack MacQuarrie, Dick Booth, Ben Davis and George Burt.  Recently, I had a chance to interview Jack MacQuarrie about how things got started.

To set the stage, a little background information is needed for those of you who are interested in the history of the HHUC.  The Massey family built Hart House on the U of T campus in the 1920’s as a common place for fellowship between students, staff and graduates.  The Athletic wing with the pool and gyms was the centre for athletic pursuits at U of T until the Clara Benson Building was built in 1959. The Warren Stevens building was added in 1980.  A sign of the times, in 1962, women were not permitted in Hart House.  My wife Peg reminds me that in 1966, when she and I were first year U of T students, women were only allowed in the Arbor Room, now known as Sammy’s Student Exchange.  But I digress.

Here is how it all began.  Recreational scuba diving equipment only became available in Canada in the early 1950s.  Many enthusiasts bought their equipment through mail order catalogues or in army/navy surplus stores.  Some people made their own scuba units! I do know for a fact that Don MacKenzie and a fellow med student, Paul Richards at TGH, “acquired” a small pair of oxygen tanks and built a DIY scuba outfit in the early 50s.  The equipment in the photo was displayed at the 45th HHUC Anniversary Party.  Scuba instruction was informal or non-existent.  In 1961 the National Association of Underwater Instructors based in California held its third ever, and first in Canada, NAUI Instructor Course at U of T.  Ben Davis NAUI 101L and George Burt NAUI 102 were on that course.  The confined water activities took place in the Hart House pool with a maximum depth of 7 feet!

In the early 1960s, perhaps earlier, the Graduate Committee of Hart House took over the Athletic Wing on Monday nights and ran a variety of sports for Graduate Members of Hart House – basketball, volleyball, swimming etc.  Jack MacQuarrie, Don MacKenzie and Larry Lundy were on the Graduate Committee.  I have heard that interest in scuba diving was sparked as people sat in the gallery of the Hart House pool, watching the NAUI Instructor Course in the summer of 1961.  The following year the Graduate Committee entertained the idea of introducing scuba training on Graduate Sports Nights.

Now it just so happened that Jack MacQuarrie was in the Canadian Navy in World War Two.  After the war, Jack continued in the Naval Reserve as pilot and electronics officer.  Around 1960 Jack had qualified as Navy diver.  At that time Jack participated as a “subject” in experimental chamber dives conducted by Commander Kidd at the Defense and Civil Institute of Environmental Medicine – towards the development of a decompression computer.  He remembers “deep chamber dives and rapid ascents” to test the computer model.  “Subjects” had to be navy trained divers.  After such sessions, “subjects” were required to hang around for a while, watching for DCS symptoms.

Jack was the perfect person to start a diving course for the Grad Committee in 1962.  About fifteen Grads and four Undergrads were interested.  Jack remembers Don MacKenzie, Hugh Geldhart, Owen Williams, Larry Lundy and Peter Stevens were in that first scuba experience.  There were weekly classroom and pool sessions.  The Course was designed on the Canadian navy course omitting things like munitions training and adding buddy breathing which the Navy didn’t teach.  They brought their own mask, fins, snorkels and weights.  Scuba gear was rented and delivered weekly by a local diving supply store.  Jack reminded me that recreational scuba diving equipment back then was comprised of a steel tank, perhaps with a reserve or “J” valve, and double hose regulators.  Tanks were donned with two simple shoulder straps and a lap belt.  No BCD, no submersible pressure gauge, no octopus and certainly no dive computer!  When breathing became hard – the dive was over!

Open water dives for that first course were in the spring of 1963 in the Toronto harbour around the hull of the HMS Haida.  The 1987 Club History states:

  • Pool Test May 27, 1963
  • Demonstration at the Hart House Farm and Graduate Picnic June 9, 1963 (perhaps the beginning of the tradition of holding our annual Training Dives early in June)
  • Burleigh Falls dive July 13, 1963  

I imagine there would have been great excitement around the planning and execution of these dives for our first intrepid HHUC divers.  The gear would have been a ragged collection of equipment “begged, borrowed or stolen” as the saying goes.  OK, some things would have been rented too.  A few pictures of early dives are available on the right.

The trouble with that first course, although the training was excellent, was that Jack MacQuarrie was not a Certified Scuba Instructor.  Jack could not issue a Certification Card.  By 1962 the recreational diving community in North America strongly encouraged training by Certified Instructors and the use of Certification Cards as proof of training.  Our first divers and Club leaders wanted to follow community standards.  Jack recalls that this is why Arnold Wilkinson (who later became Warden of Hart House) enlisted the help of his cousin, Mr. C. Ben Davis, to teach a NAUI Scuba Diver Certification Course for the Graduate Underwater Club.  Around that time, Ben was a founding member and President of the Ontario Underwater Council.  Ben agreed to run a NAUI Certification Course and brought along a fellow NAUI Instructor, George Burt to assist.  The Course also met the requirements of the OUC.

A while ago George Burt gave the Club the class attendance record from that first NAUI Scuba Diver Certification Course.  The record was on display at the 50th Gala.  The Course began Oct. 28, 1963 and ran for twenty weeks!  The written test was on March 16th 1964, and the pool test was March 23rd 1964.  The open water training dives were at Moore’s Falls on June 27th.  For the record, the twelve people in the Course were Ron Baird, Jim Blue, John Ellyard, Hugh Geldhart, Don MacKenzie, Jack MacQuarrie, Doug McWhirter, John Macualay, Erik Nylin, Peter Stevens, Owen Williams and Peter Williams.  Peter, Jim and Hugh went on to become Club Presidents – Hugh was president for five years.  Don MacKenzie was Training Director from 1968 to 1977 and has one of the Club’s most prestigious Awards named in his honour, The DHH MacKenzie Award.

Ben Davis was Training Director for two years, and has maintained an active role in the Club’s training, especially Leadership Training, since the first 1962 course until the present day.  Ben also has a Club Award in his name, The C. Ben Davis Award

As a final note about those inaugural days in the Club, it was in 1966 that the Graduate Underwater Club name was changed to The Hart House Underwater Club.  When I joined the club in 1970, I was told the term “Graduate” in the Club name was not looked upon kindly by the other scuba clubs in our area.  It somehow connoted the feeling that we believed we were superior to other clubs.

Jack MacQuarrie appears to have remained closely involved with HHUC until about 1965.  In 1966 one of his Naval Reserve assignments in Halifax was clearing unexploded munitions dumped into the Halifax harbour after WWII.  While suiting up on the deck for a naval working dive, carrying about a hundred pounds of gear – double tanks and a weight belt, he slipped and fell and was seriously injured.  It turns out that someone had removed the worn coco mats on the deck and the oil on the tile decking underneath was as slippery as wet ice.  Jack spent six months recovering as a patient of Sunnybrook hospital.  After he got back into active diving he unfortunately ingested and inhaled some oily water at the surface and the serious illness that ensued ended his ability to dive.  Jack reached the rank of Lt. Commander in the Naval Reserve and his last assignment was as Commanding Officer of the Sea Cadet Corps before his release from service in 1972.  Jack went on to work in a variety of fields with an MBA in Economics through Massey College in his resume.  Jack established and taught in the Flight Training School at Seneca College, taught Electronic at Seneca and Ryerson, edited an electronics magazine, worked for TRW Corp. and taught Business at Humber College!  Commenting on this amazing variety of jobs Jack told me, “You did what you could.”

In 2007 Jack MacQuarrie was awarded a Special Recognition Award “for his founding role in the beginning of Scuba Training with the Hart House Underwater Club”.  Jack has attended our Annual Recognition nights from time to time.  Jack and his wife Joan now live northeast of Toronto in the Hamlet of Goodwood.  They both attended our 50th Anniversary Reef Madness Celebration.

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Larry Lundy, Jack MacQuarrie, Dick Booth, Ben Davis, George Burt

Jack and Joan MacQuarrie

1954 Some of Don MacKenzie's original home-made equipment

1957 Harry Lake and Jack Ross, Underwater Club of Canada

1962 Ben Davis, Glen Letheryn and George Burt

1969 HHUC's French River dive