When Sloan's Stopped Shier

When Sloan’s Stopped Shier

Shier Mendelson was a champion Canadian pool and open water swimmer who was quite ahead of his time.

The 200m breaststroke specialist was instrumental, along with others, in founding the Jewish version of the YMCA, the YMHA, in Toronto, that enabled aspiring Jewish athletes to have a place to train. In addition, he arranged for women’s only times during which female swimmers could train without men (who often trained nude in those days).

He also coached college swimmers, hosting swimming teams from places like Michigan to come to Toronto.

With dreams of representing Canada at the 1928 Amsterdam Olympic Games, Mendelson continued to train. But his family faced extreme poverty and he accepted 25 cents for a Sloan’s Liniment advertisement. 

For that act of commercialism, he was judged a professional and was banned from the 1928 Olympic Games where he would have joined Johnny Weissmuller who later appeared in several Tarzan movies and won two gold medals.

Mendelson (sometimes written as Mendelsohn) was born around 1895, although the exact historical details are unclear as his family was in transit from Romania to Canada during that time.  Mendelson won the 1.5-mile ‘Toronto Across the Bay” competition in Ontario, Canada for the first time in 1913. The Toronto Swimming Club in that era would not allow Jewish kids join the club and enter the race, but the young Mendelson decided to jump in the race from the spectator’s area. He shocked spectators as he finished first in a bold one-upmanship. In subsequent years, the club changed its policy as Mendelson went on to win the race in 1915, 1919 and 1920 [note: the race was not held during the World War I years].

With a passionate interest in open water swimming, Mendelson and his younger Canadian friend George Young got an old motorcycle to drive across the American continent to California and enter the Wrigley Ocean Marathon. Despite their motorcycle breaking down, the pair was undaunted and hitch-hiked the rest of the way to California.

After the arduous journey across America, the 30-year-old Mendelson decided the Pacific Ocean was too cold for him. But he was happy to help his Canadian buddy across the Catalina Channel to win the Wrigley Ocean Marathon in January 1927.

Later in the 1950s, Mendelson not only participated in several Lake Ontario races, but he also coached young people to participate in these races and other races. His enthusiasm for sharing his passion for swimming continued throughout his life.

Lower photo shows Mendelson on a collectible card from Dominion Chocolate circa 1925.

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Steven Munatones