On the 13th August 1956, 28-year-old Brenda Fisher became the third person to swim Lake Ontario. Her time of 18 hours 51 minutes broke Marilyn Bell's record time by 2 hours 4 minutes. She started at 10:45 pm from Niagara-on-the-Lake on Sunday 12th August and finished at the eastern tip of Cherry Beach, Toronto, near the Dr Richard L Hearn coal-fired electrical-generating plant (phased out of operation in July 1983).
The Globe & Mail reported this was the 41st attempt on Lake Ontario in the previous two years, and that Brenda swam rain, darkness and intense sun with a freestyle rate of 52 strokes per minute. They also reported that she fed on snacks of tepid tea, well loaded with sugar, and biscuits and sugar cubes. Typical of Lake Ontario in the summer months, Brenda finished a few minutes before a torrential thunderstorm engulfed the Toronto lake-front.
70-year-old Herbert McNally was Brenda's coach and, as she waded ashore, the Globe & Mail reported that he remarked in his north-east England dialect "Ee, it's great. 'Tis 'n all".
Brenda was the daughter of a trawler Skipper from Grimsby, Lincolnshire in England. An attempt in the previous year, 1955, to swim Lake Ontario was unsuccessful.
An accomplished marathon swimmer, Brenda set a women's record for the English Channel in 1951 when she won the Daily Mail race in crossing from France to England in 12 hours 42 minutes - 73 minutes faster than the 13:55 record time set back earlier that year by the Welsh swimmer Jenny James. The win gave her the Festival of Britain cup as the fastest lady and the Eva Peron trophy for being the first British lady to finish. The left photograph shows her at the completion of that swim and is taken from Sam Rockett's book "It's cold in the Channel". She completed a second crossing of the Channel in 1954 in 14 hours 36 minutes. Brenda was married to English soccer player Patick Johnston who played for Grimsby Town. The other photos were provided by Brenda to the Channel Swimming Association in 2010 and reflect the reception she received when she returned home to Grimsby after her Channel success. Subsequently, Brenda was named as Britain's leading sportswoman of 1952.
In 1956, Brenda was also reported as the fastest woman to have completed the 29-mile Nile River swim.
Previously, at age 20, she was 1948 champion of the Morecambe Bay swim (a 10 mile cross-bay sea swim in north-west England), a title which her sister, Jessie, had won in the previous year.
Her brother, Buster, was also a swimmer who had swum the Humber River; he was killed in the Second World War. Brenda was reported to have said that her change from sprint
swimming to open-water races was as a tribute to her brother after his death
Some family information provided by Graham Smith, BLDSA.
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Created: 8th May 2001
Last Updated: 23rd January 2011