Former Leuty lifeguard wants to hear from you

Former Leuty lifeguards, including photographer Herman Sahrmann, fourth from left. PHOTO: Herman Sahrmann

Do you recognize yourself – or someone you know – in the above photograph? If so, Herman Sahrmann wants to hear from you.

Herman Sahrmann

Sahrmann, fourth from the left, spent his summers from 1957 to 1961 on the eastern beaches as a lifeguard stationed at the Leuty THP sub-station. He has been documenting those summers as a personal project and, nearly 60 years later, hopes to reconnect with his fellow lifeguards – and anyone who wants to speak about their shared love and memories of that time in history.

“As you may know, documenting one’s experiences from memory alone can be a highly selective undertaking, in that some experiences can be vividly recalled while others have been completely forgotten,” he said, on the phone from his home in London, Ont. “It helps to compare your memories with those that were there.”

Working off writing on the back of the photograph, he has been in touch with two of his former colleagues already – one is a retired professor and the other is a retired neurosurgeon – and would like to arrange a reunion with others, if he can find them. Part of the fun, he said, is finding out if people followed through with the dreams they spoke of during those hot summer days or if life took them in an entirely different direction. He has also been comparing his memories to past newspaper clippings and historical records.

Sahrmann got the job as a lifeguard two years after arriving in Canada from Germany. He completed high school in Scarborough and went to university at the University of Toronto. The lifeguard gig was perfect because he was a strong swimmer – a strong swimmer with less than a year of English under his belt, so chatting with colleagues offered opportunity to improve. He passed his test at Sunnyside pool and, at 18, suited up for his assignment at Leuty Station.

“I loved the job,” he said. “So I came back until I had to get some practical engineering experience in 1962.”

He has about 50 photographs from those five summers, some from atop the lifeguard station, others from a rowboat in the lake. “That was in the pre-digital era,” he said. “In those days, a roll of 24 slides cost $4.25 and the minimum wage was a dollar an hour. So I had to work over four hours to buy a roll of film. So we didn’t do too many colour pictures.”

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From the station, to the lifeguards and beachgoers, to the arrival of the royal yacht Britannia in the Toronto Harbour on June 29, 1959, Sahrmann’s photographs have a unique, eagle-eyed, yet personal perspective – thanks, in part, to his harbour police officer who knew he liked to take pictures.

“I was very fortunate with the harbour police officer, he was really accommodating and he knew I liked to take pictures,” he said. “So (when the royal yacht arrived) I was assigned the position at the bow to get closeups – scary being that close in my little rowboat.”

That experience, seeing Queen Elizabeth’s first visit to Toronto from a rowboat in the water, is a clear highlight of his lifeguard career.

“They opened up the St. Lawrence seaway, the royal yacht came out, followed by three cruisers,” he said. That same year, he remembers a number of warships docked in the Toronto harbour.

Aside from once-in-a-lifetime views, the job taught him practical lessons he carries with him to this day.

“The one thing it really taught me was prevention,” he said. “If you did get a rescue, you also got questioned – how come the kid got into trouble? You weren’t a hero. (They asked you) why weren’t you out there preventing him getting into trouble?”

The last time he visited the Beach was a couple of years ago – he noted that the lifeguard station had been moved. “When we were there it was right against the boardwalk,” he said. “When you stepped out the door, you stepped out onto the boardwalk.”

Sahrmann credits those five years on the boardwalk with a 50-year love affair with the Great Lakes – he now has a cottage on Lake Huron. He recalls the feeling of being a recent immigrant from Germany, and seeing Lake Ontario for the first time: “Once I saw the lake, I knew I wasn’t going to go back.”

Connect with Herman Sahrmann via email at

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I’ve really enjoyed looking at these historic photos of Kew Beach. Every morning I walk my dog along the water’s edge, passing by the Leuty Lifeguard station. I had no idea that it was once positioned right alonside the boardwalk and that the beach had been built out as much as it clearly has been since the 50’s.

Thanks for sharing these pictures. It would be great to see more of Herman’s collection of photos from the late 50’s and early 60’s.

Hi there. My name is Mary Cowling (Jacobsen). Great memories of that era. My brother Paul, aka Jake spent many years life guarding at Leuty, but don’t see him in these pictures. On the far right, is John Layton, think next to him is Carl Savalanen. Recognize other faces bug can’t recall the names. Thanks for sharing. Have some great stories from those days.

Hello Mary
I have a group picture of lifeguards that shows a P. Jacobson in the front row. — very blond hair, at the time.
Thanks for confirming John Layton and Carl Savolainen – I don’t recall number 4 from the left.

Great to see the story on the icon of the beach. Leuty station has been seen in many adds. We have a picture of the station we got at Kempenfest Art show in Barrie a number of years ago. As a young person growing up in the Beach we always thought of the guards as gods. That is John Layton. Also an outstanding football player at Malvern. The station and the Goof were always icons of our greater times growing in the area.

Received a copy of this article from my brother, Stewart Gage. My name is Rich Gage and I was a lifeguard at Leuty station from 1961 to 1965. John Layton and Carl Savolainen became Head Guards, and Carl may have joined the Toronto Harbour Police full time. I had the good fortune to be a Head Guard with John during the summer of 1965. The individual third from the right is (I think) Jim Wyatt from Lawrence Park Collegiate. Don’t know why I would remember this bit of trivia but as a Malvern boy there were always competitive connections with Lawrence Park. I do remember Herman, and many other very likeable and capable individuals. The camaraderie was outstanding, the scenery was often spectacular, and many hours of routine were interspersed with periods of tension and excitement. Today the word Awesome best describes the experience.
In addition to John Layton and myself there were other lifeguards from the Beaches area including Scott Hughes, Rod Armstrong, and Gord Noseworthy. Herman I’ll be in touch.

A blast from the past ! Spent summers hanging out at the beach, guard stations and Leuty Station as a young teenager flirting with lifeguards in the early 70s. Had the BIGGEST crush on one …. Hans van der Griend. Another guard, Charlie Pokrajac, used to make fun of me … called me a teeny bopper. Ended up dating him four or five years later for about seven years. Sadly he’s gone now. John Basterfield was another name .. I think he was studying veterinary medicine. Fergus Mallon is another name that just came to mind …. fun days and great memories.

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