Diving: A Family Business

Recently, ScubaBiz.help had a chance to chat with Todd and Rob Shannon of Aqua Systems, a chain of four dive shops located in the Greater Toronto Area. While I was anxious to talk to them about their success in the dive business, they were happy to tell me about how they started such a great diving revolution in their neighborhood.

Todd Senior started off as a Red Cross swimming instructor in Hamilton, Ontario, at the Hamilton YMCA pool. This was early on in his career as you might imagine. In the late 1950s, as a member of the Royal Canadian Air Force, he became the president of the Trenton Flying Frogman Scuba club. While at RCAF Trenton, he also served as the chief instructor.

As you might imagine, in the early days of diving, people pitched in where they could. This meant that Todd and Rob’s father ended up completing tasks that nowadays recreational divers would not want to touch – such as recovering bodies to help the police force. This meant even cutting through the ice on the Trent River to salvage a sunken car. Due to his work in this field, Ben Davis approached him to help teach and run one of the earliest versions of the NAUI Instructor program in Canada.

Todd took the time to explain that the certification process was quite a bit different at that time – dive clubs gave out certifications, which means that civilians would get accreditation from the Flying Frogman military club. Referrals were even given on the back of a business card!

Nowadays we are used to going to any scuba shop in the world and having quite a selection of equipment to choose from. Once again, in the early days of diving in Canada (and most parts of the world), you made do with what you could get your hands on. The brothers told me stories that Cornelius air compressors would take approximately forty quite noisy minutes to fill a tank. Plus, due to aircrafts being insulated with neoprene, people like Todd Senior would have to improvise by lying down on the floor, having someone trace an outline of their body, and craft a wetsuit from there. No more complaining about a wet suit not fitting perfectly for me!

Todd Senior’s military experience led him to travel everywhere. He was posted to 2 France Wing and started the Blue Fin scuba club; he was then posted to 3 Germany Wing and created the Zweibrucken scuba club and then continued through Europe as part of a dive club in Sardinia, Italy where he also did recovery work of bombs that had previously dropped into the waters in the area. Rob states that the group was “definitively cold war warriors.”

Back home, Todd senior was posted to CFB Portage La Prairie where he started the Manitoba Underwater Council. His enthusiasm for this type of work also continued in his home province where he was a board member of the Ontario Underwater Council.

His first foray into the retail dive shop business with Ben Davis, NAUI #101 – of note that Todd Senior is NAUI #510 – to open the first of the Aqua System scuba shops. Nearby they also built the Parry Submergible shop which also led them to be part of the commercial diving unit.

Todd Senior also realized that the creation of dive clubs was key to getting divers to not only experience the sport themselves but also continue to keep up their skill sets. This was done firstly through the creation of the Mississauga Dive Club in 1972, which is still in existence fifty years later. He also started renting the Etobicoke Olympium Pool in 1976 which Aqua System still rents on the same night to this day! Todd Senior also got involved in pictures – he trained actors Ernest Borgnine and Yvette Mimieux to dive for the 1973 movie “The Neptune Factor”. This led to a pool built specifically for this film in Woodbridge, Ontario, which was then donated back to that city when the filming was finished.

Let us not forget Todd Senior’s wife Ginette who also engaged in the dive scene throughout the years. Todd recalls that she was involved with Underwater Canada, which now functions as a part of the Toronto Outdoor Adventure Show. She ran the hospitality suite to great acclaim which welcomed such guests as Stan Waterman and members of the first family of scuba diving, the Cousteaus.

When you have been diving, it is great to train in a pool or access a shore dive site, but sometimes you want to go a bit further afield – and this is where the brothers came into the picture. They ran two fifty-food charter boats in Georgian Bay every weekend, from mid-May through the end of October, for thirty years! Todd and Rob also opened the full complement of the four dive shops that exist in the western part of the Greater Toronto Area when Todd Senior was approaching retirement.

Todd and Rodd were humbled to say that when Todd Senior passed not long ago that he wanted to be remembered by acknowledging what he had done and those who he had influenced. As such, both the Royal Canadian Air Force logo and the NAUI logo are adorned on his grave.

Todd Senior was a huge influence in the dive scene both domestically and worldwide he dove right up until three months before his passing with his final dive adventures being in Cozumel with the Mississauga Dive Club. I know I can speak for many when we say thank you Todd Senior for what you have done for the industry and thank you to Todd and Rob for continuing his legacy.

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