Years ago, a legendary athlete gave me the first place engraved sterling silver swimming trophy she’d won in the 1918 ladies Canadian PNA Championship 500-yard race. Here’s the tale behind my treasured keepsake.

A Legend is Born

Audrey (Mikie) Griffin Kieran was six months old in 1902 when she emigrated from England to Canada with her parents, Charles Raymond and Rhoda Griffin. The family farmed in the Millarville district south of Calgary, Alberta. Their home was surrounded by rolling ranchland, far away from a large body of water.

Shortly after the 1916 Canadian census, the family moved to Victoria, British Columbia, where Mrs. Griffin successfully underwent an operation not offered in Alberta.

Among the friends and neighbors that the young teen left behind were Eugene J. (Sam) Kieran and his son, John J. (Johnny) Kieran. The Kierans were community builders and leaders, their ranch a gathering place where all were welcome.

As a child, Mikie spent many happy hours with her parents’ neighbors, Sam and Johnny Kieran, who lived in a three-room log house. (Photo courtesy of the Millarville Historical Society.)

From the time Audrey was a small child, the two well-respected Roman Catholic Irish Canadians called her a nickname: Mikie. Despite the 25-year difference in their ages, Mikie was so fond of the Kierans that she promised Johnny that she’d marry him one day. She didn’t care who knew it. And Mikie did, but back to her swimming exploits.   

Swimming Was Her Sport

Before moving to ‘the coast,’ as Albertans called British Columbia, this young farm girl from her landlocked province had never gone swimming in a lake or ocean. Mikie soon found her niche in the competitive sport.

She went on to win a host of trophies and accolades wearing the swimming costume of the day. That consisted of knee-length skirts, elbow-length sleeves and bloomers that reached to her calf.

Mikie was so talented that there was talk of sending her to Britain to swim the English Channel. But raising that kind of money during the hard times of that period wasn’t feasible.

One of Mikie’s favorite annual swimming events was a three-mile watercourse in Victoria. It started at the foot of the Empress Hotel and ended at Gorge Bridge. (The locations are pictured above on vintage postcards.)

Mikie did all of her competing and winning before 1929. That’s the year she and Johnny were married. The couple lived happily on the Kieran’s Glendale Ranch homestead.

Because she was a skilled, enthusiastic horsewoman, Mikie fit right into the Kieran family. She frequently won the ladies’ race at the annual Millarville Races, plus she loved to garden.

For seven years, Mikie helped her husband care for his father, who became bedridden following a broken hip. Johnny was the chairman of the trustees of Ballyhamage School for several decades. He was also a working member of the Millarville Race Club and served on the Municipal District of Stockland board for many years.

Mikie and Johnny thrived on helping their neighbors and participating in community activities. (Photo courtesy of the Millarville Historical Society.)
Mikie and Johnny’s Alberta foothills home near Millarville was surrounded by rolling hills. (Photo courtesy of the University of Calgary Digital Collection.) 

In 1952, Mikie and Johnny retired to Cordova Bay, north of Victoria, British Columbia. Years later, Mikie said that Johnny had begun to feel the cold of Alberta winters in his bones. Mikie resumed swimming again, although she no longer competed with the fervor she’d once displayed. The Kierans had a big garden complete with a raspberry patch and the temperate weather on the island suited them both.

After Johnny died in 1964 at the age of 87, Mikie remained in their B.C. home. However, she cherished her ties to her old friends like my mother and grandmother in the Millarville district. Sitting at her kitchen table long before daylight, she would compose long, chatty letters to them and other friends. Then she would go outdoors and start her work in the garden.

Honors and More Honors

In 1972 at the age of 70, Mikie was inducted into the Victoria Sports Hall of Fame.

Six years later, her swimming prowess was recognized again; the British Columbia Sports Hall of Fame in Vancouver placed her big trophies on display in a large case and claimed her as one of their own.

Her amazing record of winning races ranging from 50 yards to three miles earned Mikie the description of being one of the greatest women swimmers in Canada’s history. Mikie said she had many great thrills in competitive swimming. However, her induction into the Vancouver Sports Hall of Fame was the greatest of them all.

In 1978, Mikie (right) posed with her friend, Grace, and British Columbia Premier Bill Bennett in front of the Audrey Griffin trophy case at the British Columbia Sports Hall of Fame in Vancouver.

I mentioned that Mikie corresponded with her Alberta family and old neighbors, sharing their lives through good times and sad times. She relished their occasional visits and welcomed younger members of their families into her life. I eventually began to correspond with Mikie, too.

That’s how my friend, Janice, and I came to spend a few days with Mikie in 1978. We accepted her invitation to come for a visit.

A Canadian Swimming Legend Remembered

At the end of a very pleasant stay, Mikie presented Janice and me each with one of her small trophies. Janice and I are honored to have these wonderful Canadian history mementos. They represent the heartwarming story of a great female athlete and an even greater friend. Mikie Kieran.

Mikie, who achieved star status as a swimmer when she was a young woman over a century ago, had a great zest for life. She died in 1995 at the age of 93. I treasure the trophy she gave me.

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Do you have a keepsake or a piece of memorabilia that represents a story of a family member or special friend?

Thanks for reading this post! Till next time, all the best.

Elaine Thomas
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