Frances Cannon

Frances Cannon

Marathon Swimmer and Maternity Nurse

1941-2005

Frances Cannon looks over the gunwale of a blue boat, holding onto a white ladder hooked over the side. She wears round glasses, and has her hair braided on top of her head. There is a steep cliff and a blue sky in the background.
Frances Cannon practicing her swim.

Frances Cannon (nee. Caldwell) was an inspirational record-breaker in the world of open water swimming. Born in Trail, B.C. in 1941, she began swimming at a young age. She drew inspiration from Marilyn Bell, trained under Ann Meraw, and completed swims like Kalamalka and Christina Lakes. In the marathon swimming tradition, swimmers must complete their swim without getting back into, or even touching, the boat. It requires impressive endurance and skill, and is sometimes done in competition, or to break a record.

Frances is best known for her 1972 swim across the Strait of Georgia, from Nanaimo to Sechelt. This took 15 hours and 7 minutes total. The monumental swim started as a centennial project in 1971, and took five attempts over the course of two years. On these attempts Frances faced fog, ebb tides, cold waters, winds that nearly blew her into the shore, a lack of radar equipment, and during one mishap, inhalation of tugboat fumes. After four attempts in 1971, she had to stop for the winter, during which time she married Dennis Cannon, on a tugboat, fittingly enough.

“You can never swim straight across an ocean,” she reported afterwards, offering advice applicable to not just marathon swimming: “you just have to go with the tide.” Frances’s tugboat crew supported her throughout the swims, shining a spotlight so that she could see in the dark ocean, and keeping careful records. They took many of the pictures you can see in Frances’s documentary below. Dennis had the important job of following her in a motorboat, and offering food on the end of a stick.

Finally, Frances arrived in Sechelt as the first woman and the second person to ever complete the swim. In her later nursing career, she assisted with several maternity programs in Vancouver, and eventually became a Bowen resident.

Dennis Cannon, Frances' husband, offers her some water at the end of a long stick. He is sitting in a motorboat, shirtless, and she is treading water, wearing a green checkered swimming cap, and blue goggles.
Dennis Cannon offers Frances some water on a stick, as marathon swimmers are not allowed to touch the boat while swimming.
A map of Frances Cannon's four swims across the Georgia Strait in 1971
Fran's four unsuccessful swims across the Strait of Georgia in 1971, as well as the straight-line distance.
A picture of Frances Cannon in a colourful t-shirt and a long grey skirt, holding a sunhat, on the beach on Bowen Island. Her hair is grey, and she's smiling.
Frances later in her life, on the beach on Bowen Island.

To read more about other extraordinary women from Bowen Island, head back this way.