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Youngest winner of Bates Wardle Award named

Annual honour given to the young to carry the legacy of lifeguarding bravery and service

INNISFAIL – The fourth annual presentation of the Bates Wardle Award was an event that not only marked the 70th anniversary of a miracle that saved a life and preserved many others but also created a legacy for the family and today’s youth who proudly march forward with the commitment to serve the community and protect more lives.

On July 22 at the Innisfail Aquatic Centre, 14-year-old Aubry Haldorson was presented with the 2021 Bates Wardle Award, which was established in partnership by Innisfail’s Gavin Bates and Cochrane’s Bob Wardle to annually recognize one youth from both communities who make extraordinary volunteer contributions to help others. 

Most importantly, the award recognizes the vital community roles lifeguards play, something that irreversibly changed the lives of both Wardle and Bates.

It was 70 years ago under a blazing hot morning sun in the southeastern Alberta village of Tilley that Wardle, now 85-years-old, saved the life of Bates' late wife Frankie when she was just 20 months old.

She had fallen 13 feet into a cistern, topped with an 18-inch-square opening leading into a three-foot chute and into a 10-foot by five-foot steel tank filled with ice cold water.

Wardle, then just 15 and having just earned a lifeguard certificate, then saved the child after three rescue attempts, despite overwhelming odds.

Frankie went on to have a full life until passing away in 2017. Frankie and Wardle became lifelong friends. She had 65 years of additional life because of Wardle's heroism. Frankie's survival meant meeting and marrying Gavin. They raised three boys -- Stephen, Michael, and Mark. The couple also had many grandchildren. All those lives saved by the heroism of Aug. 10, 1951.

Wardle's heroism was recognized by the Royal Life Saving Society the following year with the first-ever Mountbatten Medal, now awarded annually, and only to a citizen from a Commonwealth nation, for the most gallant rescue or attempt undertaken in the previous calendar year.

Wardle was in Innisfail on July 22 to help Gavin present the annual Bates Wardle Award, which includes a $750 bursary for lifeguard training. The annual bursary is administered by the Calgary Foundation.

“They (award winners) learn in their training a great deal of what to do and what not to do with different types of drowning situations, and they come out of that with the full knowledge of not only how to do it but when to do it,” said Wardle, who retold the events of Aug. 10, 1951 to the assembled guests and civilians attending the July 22 award ceremony. “I envy her because she has a good career coming up.”

Haldorson, who will be attending Grade 9 next year in Innisfail, is the youngest person to receive the annual award. She has been a member of the Innisfail Dolphins for the past six years and has a goal of becoming a certified lifeguard.

Haldorson said she was familiar with Wardle’s heroic story before the presentation but meeting him was an even bigger inspiration.

“I learned even more as he was talking. It is a great story, and yes it did inspire me,” said Haldorson. “I have always wanted to be a lifeguard. He inspired me to keep going with my lifeguarding training, and I think it would inspire anyone too to become a lifeguard and learn how to save people.”

Gavin said it was especially pleasing to see a younger applicant selected for the award because it fit the profile of how the story evolved.

“She is the youngest thus far, very near Bob’s age when he rescued Frankie,” said Gavin, who delivered a 10-minute presentation during the ceremony.

“Aubry has volunteered helping with the younger water polo swimmers the last three years, including developing drills and ensuring COVID protocols."

"Also, in the same last three years she has progressed in lifeguarding to earn her Bronze Star, Bronze Medallion and Bronze Cross," added Gavin. "She hopes to continue her training and become a certified guard when she is 16.”

Most importantly, Gavin wants the award to be preserved for future remarkable young citizens.

His middle son Michael, who lives with his family near Wardle in Cochrane, said he’s proud to be a future torch bearer for the award, noting how special it is to have it created in the memory of his late mother.

“And having something you can have as a legacy of her life that will go on, and with Bob still here, the person who saved her, is really special. And having my children here, who know the story now and are part of it. They will be able to carry it on past me as well,” said Michael, adding the story is additionally amazing with his current Cochrane connection to Wardle. “It’s that odd fact we ended up moving in (to Cochrane) on the same street as him. We didn’t even know it."

“It all seems it was meant to be somehow. If it wasn’t for his heroism that day my mom doesn’t make it and never has a chance to have a life at all,” added Michael. “It really is an amazing story.”