Tennis Manitoba has found a home in St. James and racquets will soon be swinging again at a historic court.
This summer will mark the return of the game to St. James as the organization has entered a lease agreement with the City of Winnipeg to operate the former Deer Lodge Tennis Club. The facility, now renamed Tennis Manitoba Hub at Deer Lodge, has not operated since 2019 when it was run by the city. In 2020 the facility was shut down due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
"First and foremost it saves the facility; it keeps a tennis facility that has been around since the '50s," said Mark Arndt, Executive Director of Tennis Manitoba.
Arndt added he is excited with the potential of the facility to raise awareness and the opportunity to grow the sport in Winnipeg. Tennis Manitoba is now waiting for restrictions to relax so it can open sooner than later.
"We’re happy that the number one accomplishment was to keep it as a tennis facility and that’s massive for us," said Arndt.
"It starts the tennis pathway here in Winnipeg and we’ll have programs and tournaments for everyone from kids starting out that are three, four, years old to people that are 94 years old."
The not-for-profit club will charge adult tennis players a nominal fee of $12.60 an hour, and court reservations need to be made online. A maximum of two hours can be booked during the course of the week, but if the courts are open, anyone can book another reservation.
President of Tennis Manitoba, Mohamed Ismath, is a lifelong tennis enthusiast and player. Ismath explained how the pay-per-play model is extremely affordable for everyone.
"If you divide that cost by two that’s $6.30 per person, you cannot find that anywhere across Canada to be very honest," said Ismath.
"This will give us a pathway to introduce tennis to all of the citizens of the St. James community. If they are interested in going to a higher level, we have a few other not-for-profit and private owned facilities based on that, they can graduate to a higher level of tennis."
Ismath explained how revitalizing tennis in the Deer Lodge community holds a special place in history for this part of the city.
"The Deer Lodge community has been established since the Second World War," said Ismath.
"These tennis courts were installed in the early 1950s if I’m not mistaken. There is a hospital around here, the Deer Lodge Centre which was built to serve the First and Second World War veterans. I think this facility was created at that time to make sure that the staff and everyone else had some leisure time to come and enjoy tennis."
Both Arndt and Ismath are ready to start hosting events and tournaments at the courts and believe it’s a safe outdoor sport. Over the past year, the pandemic has created challenges to keep the interest up in the sport.
"We’re sitting on ready all the time, and we wait for the health orders to come out and each time we have to pivot," said Arndt.
"The tennis community has been patient with Covid and understanding. Together with golf they are deemed as the two safest sports and parents are especially seeing that as a safe alternative for their kids."
Based on the recent success Canadians have had on the ATP World Tour, Tennis Manitoba is using it as inspiration to organize its efforts toward increased youth involvement at the Deer Lodge.
"That’s where it starts, at the grassroots level, the kids going into school, promoting this to schools in the St. James area which we’ve had a good following in the past," said Arndt.
The two men are excited to be able to give back to the community as they’ve carried an interest in the sport for decades.
"It’s a lifelong alternative," said Arndt. "You can start at five and play till you’re 95, it’s a sport you can play for a very long time."
"When I was a young kid, my father put in a racket in my hand and I started playing," said Ismath.
"When I moved to Winnipeg I joined the Winter Club. Now when my kids come back to visit from work on holidays we continue the tradition."
The four tennis courts are soon to be resurfaced to have them ready for the summer.
Joseph Bernacki is the reporter/photographer for The Headliner. Joseph was the 2021 Vince Leah Sports Intern with the Winnipeg Free Press before joining Canstar Community News. A 2020 graduate of the University of Regina’s school of journalism, Joseph enjoys playing golf, listening to his country music collection and following his favourite Chicago sports teams. In his spare time, he is the host of a variety talk show podcast including Better Call Saul as a weekly topic.