Growing Pains: Community centres in Winnipeg

The East Elmwood Community Centre opened in 2015. Global News / File

Winnipeg is growing. It’s exciting. But it’s not happening without some Growing Pains. Today is part one of our series on the bumps in the road to a city of a million people, and what’s being done to smooth them out.

Going for a skate or a soccer game at the community centre down the street is a normal part of being a kid for many Winnipeg families. But for some in the city’s newer neighbourhoods, having that community centre a few blocks away isn’t the case anymore and accessing those everyday activities can be a challenge.

It’s a familiar routine for Jesse Peters. Buckling his four-year-old daughter Harper into the backseat of his car. They’re on their way to swimming lessons. But Harper will spend twice as long in her car seat as she will in her bathing suit.

“You’ve got lessons at say 4:30 p.m. or 5 p.m. Well it’s a half hour drive in rush hour there and a half hour drive after. Then you’ve missed dinner. There’s nothing close and convenient just to slip home… it really throws off that routine that’s healthy for our children,” Peters said.

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The 37-year-old father and husband moved to Bridgwater Lakes in Waverley West more than two years ago – an area of the city that’s more than doubled in population since 2011. In a few years, that’s expected to double again. However, there aren’t any community centres to serve the growing suburb.


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Harper isn’t quite at the “are we there yet?” stage, but Jesse says she’s beginning to wonder why it takes so long to go anywhere.

“She knows her cousins play somewhere else. She knows it’s a quick walk from grandma and grandpa’s to a hockey rink. They know all these little conveniences and it’s only a matter of time before they say ‘why not us? Why do we always have to go somewhere else?’”

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The explosive growth of suburbs like Waverley West is straining programs at community centres in nearby areas.

Murray Harding is the general manager of the Richmond Kings Community Centre in Fort Richmond. He says they serve close to 40,000 people. That’s quadrupled in the last few years. About 300 kids used to play soccer on those fields but now more than 900 are chasing the ball across the grass. Without additional money from the city, Harding says there’s really only one thing they can do.

RELATED: Peek inside new East Elmwood Community Centre

“We have to overload the existing fields. We will be challenged with maintaining those fields. The location of them – there’s not a community centre near those sites so we have to do a lot of transportation. Basically we’re a mobile landscaping field without the revenue to go with it,” he said.

The Richmond Kings Community Centre maintains eleven fields, a few of which are shared with Pembina Trails School Division.

“So you now have the field being used 12 hours a day and it doesn’t take long for the grass to disappear, the mud patches (to appear), which forces us to basically take it out of commission for our own programs,” Harding said.

So what’s being done to help community centres deal with this influx of people?

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The city is currently looking at building a massive, recreation centre in Waverley West that would include libraries, swimming pools, ice rinks and gymnasiums along with cricket and soccer fields. Edmonton and Calgary have built similar centres in their new neighbourhoods.

“Now we’ve sort of moved to this model where everything is sort of accessed in a big box way. It’s not just shopping anymore, it’s recreation centres that we’re moving away from the smaller community club. We’re not designing the community itself to have these amenities embedded within it. It’s not thought at the beginning where a corner store might go. It’s not thought where a community centre might go,” architect and urban affairs columnist Brent Bellamy said.

RELATED: Volunteers the lifeblood of any Community Centre

Bellamy says these recreation centres are spectacular but they don’t always connect with the existing community.

“How do we actually get to these places? Who are they serving? And can we embed them more closely within the actual fabric of our neighbourhoods and make them a part of our neighbourhood, not just something that we drive to, spend an hour in and then drive away from,” he said.

Jesse Peters’ daughter will be much older before anything happens. It could take years to get funding approved and construction may not start until 2020.

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In the meantime, community centres next to new neighbourhoods will have to make do with the resources they have. Murray Harding’s biggest concern is how expensive it is to keep the fields in playing condition.

“We did little piece of it seven or eight years ago to fix the drainage in one area and that was a $9,000 bill at that time. To quadruple that area is very costly. The community centre doesn’t have the money to do that,” he said.

What can we do avoid these problems when the city expands? Bellamy says it all comes down to planning.

“The sooner we begin to plan for being a big city instead of just being a small city that lots of people live in, the better off we’ll be in the future,” he said.

Despite the struggles, Jesse is hopeful for the future of his family and his neighbourhood.

“I am remaining optimistic, positive and understanding there’s going to be challenges. But we also need a good mix of patience. Rome wasn’t built overnight, but it wasn’t built just by sitting on your hands,” he said.

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