New Canadians get free swim lessons in Windsor, Ont.

Windsor, Ont., to provide new Canadians free swimming lessons and relax regulations at public pools to better accommodate a variety of relgions.

Immigrants four times more likely to be unable to swim than those born in Canada

For many Canadians, swimming lessons are a summertime rite of passage.

For those who didn't grow up here, water and water safety can be a foreign concept.

Some organizations around Windsor, Ont., are trying to educate new Canadians about water safety.

The Lifesaving Society says new Canadians face a higher risk of drowning than people who were born in Canada. 

A study commissioned by the society in 2010 found that 79 per cent of new Canadians planned to be around water during the summer but that they were four times more likely to be unable to swim than those born in Canada.

A year later, the society held a focus group and found that 41 per cent of new Canadians had taken formal swimming lessons but most said they want their children to take lessons.

Three-year-old Isaiah Harris loves water.

His mom Yurimi Llanes grew up in Cuba and plans to get her son the swimming lessons she never had.

"I never learned how to swim and I regret that. I want him to learn because it's important," she said.

The local chapter of the Lifesaving Society and the City of Windsor are trying to help.

The Lifesaving Society offers the Swim to Survive Program during which Grade 3 students get three in-water lessons and three classroom lessons on how to survive an unexpected fall into water.

Cynthia Cakebread is the co-chair of the Lifesaving Society Windsor-Essex chapter. She said that 64 schools and 2,600 children participated in 2011.

Swimwear similar to what Sama Wareh is seen wearing in Newport Beach, Cali., in this file photo, will be encouraged in Windsor pools. (Chris Carlson/Associated Press)

Religion in the pool

In Windsor, Water World supervisor Jennifer Valdez said city pools are offering free swimming lessons to new Canadians starting this fall.

"If they've been in the country for less than three years, we'll be providing a learn to swim program, they can register for," she said.

The Lifesaving Society also found in 2011 that religion plays a role in whether, where and when people learn to swim.

The society's focus group showed that 57 per cent of Muslim respondents felt their religion or culture has an impact on what they wear when they swim. Close to 50 per cent felt religion has an impact on who they are able to swim with and where.

Some parents in the focus group raised concerns that public swimming lessons didn't address cultural and religious issues such as swim attire.

In Windsor, Islam is the most practised religion after Christianity. Local pools have expanded guidelines to allow different types of swimwear to follow religious beliefs.

Two Muslim women CBC News spoke with declined to go on camera but said they fully intended to enrol their children in swimming lessons.

YMCA barely meets demand

Over at the YMCA, courses have been added to accommodate the growing number of new Canadians wanting to learn to swim.

The first two 12-person, five-week sessions were full and the YMCA added a women-only course on Sundays.

Jaquie Rumiel, the general manager and director of programming for new Canadians at the YMCA said they have no trouble filling the spaces. They promote the courses through English classes, for example.

"They’ve come from countries where they’ve never experienced water before," Rumiel said. "All we have to do is show them the pool and they get very excited. It’s a pretty easy sell."

Megan Kelly is an instructor there. She teaches the buddy system, water safety, drowning preventation and the importance of a life jacket.

"There is a a bit of language barrier but we always find a way to reach new Canadians," she said.