Passages: Sara (Barber) Jenkins, Canadian Olympian, Dies at Age 79


Sara (Barber) Jenkins, who represented Canada at two Olympic Games, passed away on Oct. 22 due to complications of Alzheimer’s disease. She was 79 years old.

Jenkins competed for Canada in the 1956 and 1960 Olympics. She was just 15 years old when she qualified for the Melbourne Olympics, where she made two individual finals. She finished seventh in the women’s 100 backstroke and eighth in the women’s 100 butterfly. She also added a relay final, the Canadian foursome of Jenkins, Helen Stewart, Gladys Priestly and Virginia Grant finishing fifth.

In 1960, she swam in the 100 back and medley relay in Rome, not making the final in either.

The native of Brantford, Ontario, was born in 1941, her mother a former university hockey player and her father a surgeon during World War II and a self-taught swim coach. She graduated from Brantford Collegiate Institute, winning a Western Ontario Secondary Schools Association girls championships.

Sara (Barber) Jenkins would go on to compete at the 1954 Empire Games in Vancouver, her first of two such events, plus two Pan American Games. She set a world record in the 100 back at the 1959 Pan Am Games in Chicago, which was re-set later in the meet by American Carin Cone, who edged Jenkins by one-tenth of a second to the gold medal.

“Although Sara’s name is inscribed in several athletic halls of fame and she was invited to many fancy events in her honour, Sara was most at home in church basements and in outreach programs where the coffee maker would be on until late, the to-do list would be long, budget small and ambitions large,” her obituary reads. “From her early days doing what she referred to as “countless laps” in the Brantford YMCA pool, she loved the Y.  She believed it was important to have places where young people could go and play, be safe and interact positively with adults and their community.”

Jenkins retired from swimming in 1962 but continued to enjoy the sport non-competitively late into her life. In 1965, she married Don Jenkins (who predeceased her in 2012) and moved to Orillia, Ontario, where she worked as a physical education teacher, social worker and lay minister.

Jenkins was inducted to the Ontario Aquatic Hall of Fame in 1994.

Her full obituary is available here.