John Wilfred Loaring
Hurdler, swimmer, businessman, Olympic medal winner
Successful athletes are blessed with natural ability, but great ones also possess determination and perseverance. Throughout his life, John Wilfred Loaring displayed these characteristics. Born on August 3, 1915, John was one of three children of Charles Wilfred Loaring and Ethel Mary (Witney) Loaring, who immigrated to Winnipeg Manitoba from Great Britain. When Johnny was eleven his family moved again, this time settling in Windsor Ontario. During his senior years of elementary school, John attended Victoria Avenue Public School.
For his first year in high school Loaring was to attend the newly opened Kennedy Collegiate Institute, but during the summer he contracted rheumatic fever, a painful inflammatory disease that typically affects the skin, joints and central nervous system and often leads to a weakened heart. A year passed as he recuperated. Determined to resume a normal life, John sought permission from his father and family doctor to begin running. By 1931 he competed in the Border Cities Secondary School track meets, setting a record for the junior boys’ 120 yard low hurdles. Good coaching and practice brought improvement in his running and jumping. In 1935 Loaring won medals for hurdles at W.O.S.S.A., and the Ontario and Dominion track and field competitions, leading to his being chosen as a member of the Canadian track team that traveled to the Centennial Games, held in Melbourne Australia in November the same year. There, he placed first in the 120 yard high hurdles and was the anchor man for the winning Canadian relay team. During 1936 qualifying events in Montreal, his times in the 400 metre run and 400 metre hurdles won him a place on the Canadian Olympic track and field team.
The 1938 Olympics held in Germany were the first to be televised. John Loaring had just turned 21 when he represented Canada in three 400 metre track events. Loaring captured silver for the hurdles. He was the youngest to compete in the event and finished just 3/10ths of a second behind Glen Hardin, the gold medalist and world record holder. Loaring’s time for the 400 metre race was a Canadian best and earned him sixth place in the finals. For the 4X400 metre relay, he ran the anchor position, and provided a come-from-behind sprint to give the Canadian team a fourth place finish. He also placed in the top 10 for the “All English-Speaking Final” for the 400-metre race. Family members recall the German press hailing Loaring as “the toughest competitor of 1936” for running a total of nine races (including qualifying rounds) in such a short time-span.
Two years later John Loaring returned to Australia to participate in the British Empire Games where he received three gold medals and set a new time of 52.9 seconds in the 440 yard hurdles – a record that held until 1966. As a result of his performance, Loaring was awarded the J. W. Davies Trophy for Canada’s Track and Field Athlete of the Year in 1938.
In the fall of 1938 Loaring enrolled in a program to study mathematics and physics at the University of Western Ontario. While there he expanded his athletic repertoire to include rugby as well as swimming for the varsity team. Four times he won the Intermediate Intercollegiate Swimming Championship. In his final year at UWO, Loaring captained the swim team.
When World War II exploded, John Loaring enlisted with the Royal Canadian Navy Volunteer Reserve. First as a Sub-Lieutenant, and then as a Lt. Commander, Loaring served as a radar officer on British ships. In May of 1940, he competed and captured three titles at the Navy and Marine Championships held in England. He achieved further acclaim when, in November of that year, he was among the crew of a British destroyer that rescued survivors of a passenger liner torpedoed by a German submarine. Learning that Loaring was familiar with life-saving techniques, the ship’s doctor gave over to him the bodies of five unconscious children. Loaring was able to revive three of the children, although one later succumbed to other injuries. In 1941 the Loaring family feared for John’s life after they learned the battleship Fiji, on which he was aboard, was sunk by the enemy off the island of Crete. Later it was reported that Loaring and other members of the crew survived by swimming and clinging to remains of the ship until they were rescued.
Lt. Commander Loaring was returned to a base in England and then transferred back to Canada, to assume command of a radar training unit until the end of the war. In 1946 he returned to Windsor, to be in charge of the HMCS Hunter
Before going overseas, Loaring married. He fathered five children. Back in civilian life, John Loaring joined the family construction business, taking over as president after his father’s death in 1946. From home construction and renovation, the business expanded into the commercial, industrial and institutional sector. During the 1950s, the company designed and built projects worth in the millions of dollars, including Herman Collegiate Institute, St. Barnabas Church, and several of the buildings within the Allied Chemical complex in Amherstburg. Loaring Construction built the outdoor swimming pool in Lansperry Park, as well as many other pools across the area.
John Loaring maintained his interest in athletics, swimming in particular, throughout the rest of his life. He headed the Windsor Swimming Club, as well as playing and coaching water polo there. He officiated at the 1966 British Empire & Commonwealth Games in Kingston, Jamaica, and held positions with the Canadian Olympic Association, the British & Commonwealth Games Association, and the Amateur Athletic Union of Canada. John Loaring was a hero to many and wrote letters of encouragement to promising young athletes. His family recalls how he allowed the pool at his home to be used for free swimming lessons, but participants “had to sing ‘O Canada’ to gain entry”.
John Wilfred Loaring died from cancer, aged 54, on November 20 1969.
His achievements earned him many official commendations. In 1956 he was elected to the Canadian Amateur Athletic Hall of Fame. He was honoured posthumously by both the Windsor/Essex County Sports Hall of Fame, and the Athletic Hall of Fame established by the University of Western Ontario. In 2009 Loaring was inducted into the Ontario Track and Field Association’s inaugural Hall of Fame class. The Canadian Sports Hall of Fame included him in the Inaugural Legends Class in 2015. John Loaring continues to inspire in the races and swimming events named in his honour.
Kent, Jack.”Businessman, athlete, John W. Loaring dies”. The Windsor Star. (November 21, 1969) p. 5.
Loaring, Charlotte. [personal correspondence]. June 2016.
Techko, Tony. “The Loaring legend”. Windsor this month. (Feb/Mar. 1979) p. 16.
Techko, Tony and Morgan, Carl. “John Loaring: a legend then and now”. In The Olympians among us. (Tecumseh, Ont. : TraveLife, 1995).
Waddell, Dave. “Loaring legacy back in spotlight: Hall to salute 1936 silver medalist”. The Windsor Star. (Nov. 11, 2009) p. C1.
Windsor Essex County Sports Hall of Fame. “John Loaring”. [website] URL: http://wecshof.org/inductees/john-loaring/ accessed: June 28, 2016.[plus assorted other news reports from the Windsor Daily Star during the 1930s and 1940s, identified by the library’s index to the newspaper]