By Kathryn Stocks

People have been learning to scuba dive at the Scarborough Underwater Club Inc. (SUCI) since 1961. Six of those years have been at the dive pool in the Toronto Pan Am Sports Centre.

“The pool is a big drawing card because it’s highly unusual for clubs or dive shops to have access to a dive tank as they have at TPASC,” said Divemaster and Secretary Nora Mark. The dive tank is five metres deep so it’s perfect for scuba diving.

Jack Purchase, the club’s Training Director and a PADI Master Instructor, has been a certified diver since 1969. “We have a really good staff of PADI certified training professionals, all volunteers,” he said.

The first step in learning to dive is called Discover Scuba. It gives participants an hour in the classroom first and then they head to the pool to put on the equipment and take the plunge. This course gives them the chance to see if scuba diving is something they might enjoy.

The next step is the Open Water course, which gives training in the pool and knowledge development online. The pool training consists of three sessions of five independent dives. When the ice goes out in the spring and the water warms up a bit outside, divers do the Open Water training, which certifies them to dive without an instructor.

After that course, they can pursue higher level courses such as Advanced Open Water, Rescue Diver, Master Scuba Diver and Divemaster. There are also specialty courses like Underwater Photography and Wreck Diving.

The club has a summer dive season in Ontario with weekend trips to a variety of sites. These sites are mostly for shipwreck diving in the Great Lakes, “probably the world’s largest repository of old shipwrecks,” Jack said. There are thousands of them and the cold water keeps the wooden wrecks in great condition. “Only about 10 percent have been found,” Nora said.

A favourite place to dive is at Tobermory on the Bruce Peninsula. “People come from all over the world to go there,” Jack said. Nora likes the Thousand Islands, too. “It’s fairly warm, has good visibility and good shipwrecks,” she said.

Another of Jack’s favourites is the St. Clair River. “It’s very exciting diving,” he said. “It’s an international shipping lane but it’s also a high current drift dive.The real reason for going there is to look at the schools of sturgeon. They spawn on the bottom and as you drift along you encounter these eight-foot long fish, hundreds of them sometimes.”

When the Ontario dive season ends, the club continues to meet for advanced certification and for social events. In many years a group of divers will head to tropical destinations for diving trips that have been organized by members.

SUCI’s annual membership fluctuates between 70 and 100. Jack said he would like to see more younger people in the club, but knows that work and family obligations prevent some from joining.

Memberships cost $150 and are renewed every year. The next Discover Scuba Diving Program comes up on March 23 and the cost is $75. Pre-registration is required.

For lots of great information on the club, see the website at

Scarborough Underwater Club Instructor Lauren O’Keeffe with Discover Scuba participant in the training pool at the Toronto Pan Am Sports Centre.

SUCI Open Water student Bea Purchase practicing buoyancy skills in the TPASC training pool.

Members of SUCI on the deck of the pool at TPASC where the club’s diver training takes place.

Students in the water prior to their last dive to complete SUCI’s Open Water Certification course in Marmora.

SUCI certified Rescue Diver Heather Lemieux at the helm of the scuttled wreck of the Niagara II in Tobermory.

Divers help each other gear up before their Open Water dive in Marmora.

Divemaster Owen Jones with a grouper in Cayman Brac.

SUCI member Heather Lemieux keeping a close eye on two grey angelfish and a hawksbill turtle in Cozumel, Mexico.

The Beauty of a Tomato Clownfish swimming near a Philippines Reef

Photo credit: Michael McCabe

‘The best-kept secret in Scarborough’

For Centennial resident Owen Jones, scuba diving was something low on his to-do list that reached number 1 when he got an invitation from a neighbour for his son’s wedding in Mexico in 2013. Owen had no desire to lie on a beach there so he quickly found an organization that would teach him how to scuba dive in time for the trip.

The basic training he got here set him up to get his Open Water Certification in Mexico. A small group from the wedding was doing the same thing and they went down to the little village of Puerto Morelos for that training. “I went diving every day,” Owen said, except for the wedding day, of course.  “I loved it. I was hooked!” He did 10 or more dives that week.

When Owen returned to Toronto, he continued to dive. He progressed to the level of Advanced Diver, then discovered the Scarborough Underwater Club (SUCI) by fluke in 2014. He has done the rest of his training with them.

SUCI started in 1961 at the Cedarbrae pool, then moved to Centennial, and now does its training at the dive pool in the Toronto Pan Am Sports Centre. Owen calls the club “the best kept secret in Scarborough.”

As well as its training sessions in the pool, the club schedules dive trips in Ontario every weekend from May to October. They go to places like the St. Lawrence River between Brockville and Kingston, which has a great stretch of wrecks; Tobermory, which has wrecks and really clear water; the St. Clair River for a drift dive on the current; and many more. 

Members also privately organize trips to tropical destinations. “There’s always a group of us going somewhere in the world throughout the year,” Owen said. Highlights for him include seeing whale sharks, “they’re just like school buses swimming in the water,” and a seahorse.

To learn more about the club, visit the website at Or catch Owen’s presentation on “60 Years of Diving” at the Scarborough Community Renewal Organization (SCRO) meeting on March 10.

“It’s not just a young person’s adventure,” Owen said. “You’re never too old to start.”