Five months into the COVID-19 pandemic, the City of Winnipeg’s recreation options remain limited.
In March, the city closed its recreation centres, pools and libraries to help prevent the spread of the coronavirus.
As of this week, just one city swimming pool (Pan Am Pool) is offering swimming lessons and only six of its 12 indoor pools are open. (The closures include the Bonivital Pool and St. James Civic Centre pool, which are closed for maintenance.)
The city offered just 244 Leisure Guide programs this summer, compared with 2,540 last year.
All 12 city-run arenas remain closed this week as well, though more information on those facilities is expected "in the coming weeks," said city spokesman David Driedger, in an emailed statement.
"All efforts are being made to resume or expand library and recreation and leisure services and programs safely, and in accordance with public health guidelines," wrote Driedger.
On Friday, the city announced four more indoor pools and four recreation centres will open Sept. 8. Five more city pools will also join Pan Am in offering "condensed" swimming lessons next month, with classes from Sept. 8 to Sept. 26.
Even with those additions, Jason Shaw, Winnipeg’s assistant chief of emergency management, confirmed there will be fewer spaces and swim lesson times, since the facilities must reduce capacity to meet social distancing guidelines.
“The most frequent (question) that I (have received), citywide, is ‘Why isn’t my pool open?’” — Coun. Sherri Rollins
Coun. Sherri Rollins, chairwoman of council’s protection, community services and parks committee, said that means demand has exceeded capacity in recent months.
"There are less facilities, less available space and less available class time," said Rollins. "The most frequent (question) that I (have received), citywide, is ‘Why isn’t my pool open?’ "
Some Winnipeggers whose family members are taking swimming lessons at Pan Am Pool this week said they travelled further than they normally would to reach the classes.
Chris Enns said the option worked well for his family but he is concerned other kids who rely on city recreation options may have been unable to access them this summer.
"I think more options are obviously better because of accessibility. I’m fortunate that I have a vehicle and a job that (allows me to) do these things but I’m not sure that it’s accessible for everyone… I can make this work for me, but for thousands of people this probably isn’t enough," said Enns.
Chris Buffie said his family was glad to have the Pan Am option. Buffie said he thinks it makes sense the city isn’t offering its usual amount of recreation programs.
"I would like to see (the city) do what’s safest. If that means that there are some things that are eliminated because of that, then I think that’s just kind of how it has to be for now," he said.
Rollins said there’s little consensus on recreation programs, since many Winnipeggers have complained the city reopened facilities too quickly, raising the risk of spreading the virus.
"My focus… is to continue those (recreation) offerings (but) I need it to be safe," said Rollins.
Leisha Strachan, a University of Manitoba kinesiology and recreation management professor, said reduced access to recreation raises concerns.
"It can lead to sedentary behaviour. We know that childhood obesity, childhood diabetes are (both) on the rise. Without having an outlet for physical activity, for movement, that can definitely impact people throughout their lives," said Strachan.
She’s concerned kids and youth will also have fewer physical education options at school this year, as educators scramble to find more space for classrooms so they can provide room for physical distancing.
"I’m hoping that schools do still consider keeping physical education as part of the curriculum, even if it’s doing it outside," said Strachan.
She suggested Winnipeggers who wish to remain active should check what’s available at their local community centres and consider indoor options.
"We do have to think about how to live with (COVID-19) and have to reimagine the role of recreation and sport and how we can still participate," said Strachan.
Born and raised in Winnipeg, Joyanne loves to tell the stories of this city, especially when politics is involved. Joyanne became the city hall reporter for the Winnipeg Free Press in early 2020.