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‘We need the space’: Montrealers launch petition to save women-only gym

WATCH: Two Montreal women are on a mission to keep their women-only gym, for women-only. An Econofitness location in Rosement has started renovations to welcome men and that decision isn't sitting well with some club members.

The decision of a gym exclusively reserved for women in Montreal’s Rosemont neighbourhood to start admitting men as well has garnered mixed reactions from members, staff and the public.

Marie-Hélène Gauthier, who attends Éconofitness Extra au Féminin on Masson Street, has launched an online petition asking the gym to reconsider the move. Gym members weren’t consulted and the organization made the decisions unilaterally, she said.

“We signed up to this gym because it was for women and we need the space,” she said.

READ MORE: Why some women are afraid to run in public

The Éconofitness website confirms the gym will be accessible to all starting Dec. 20. The company told Global News the move is due to increased demand by men in the community.

The change is welcome news for Michel Bernard, who says he felt excluded from his neighbourhood gym.

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“I’m very happy about that. I live in the area,” he said. “There is no other gym. The closest one is at Pie-IX Boulevard and Jean-Talon Street.”

The gym members who aren’t on board with the decision argue it’s important to save one of the few women-only clubs in the area. Coralie Laperrière told Global News what she enjoys about Éconofitness Extra au Féminin is that it provides her with a safe space to work out.

“I really think it’s important to have that and to conserve that,” she said.

READ MORE: More than 1 in 4 say they’ve seen gymgoers leave bathroom without washing hands: survey

Gauthier, for her part, said the gym has allowed neighbourhood women to come and train with confidence for seven years. She points out that public spaces where women from all walks of life can meet and feel comfortable in their bodies are very rare.

“When you work out you’re very vulnerable. Your body’s shown in a vulnerable light,” she said. “You don’t want to be doing squats in front of a man who is working out behind you.”

The decision also means that most members will lose the classes they take with instructors, according to Gauthier.

Marie-Hélène Gauthier (left) and Coralie Laperrière (right) are fighting to keep a Rosemont gym for women only. Monday, Dec. 2, 2019. Anne Leclair/Global News
Marie-Hélène Gauthier (left) and Coralie Laperrière (right) are fighting to keep a Rosemont gym for women only. Monday, Dec. 2, 2019. Anne Leclair/Global News

She added the petition, which has received nearly 200 signatures, may make some hopeful members angry but it comes down to preserving the gym in its current form and mission.

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“It’s not against them,” said Gauthier. “It’s just for us.”

Upper body workout
Upper body workout

Amandine Arthaud, a personal trainer at Éconofitness Extra au Féminin, said she is okay with the decision to admit men, but that she understands why some women are frustrated.

It is not yet clear if she will be relocated or allowed since the gym will also adopt a virtual model, which means classes will no longer have in-person instructors.

“I think it will be fine but I can understand some women are not so comfortable,” she said.

Éconofitness will reimburse members who aren’t happy with the new model. The new gym will also extend its hours and be open every day.

Upper body workout
Upper body workout

— With files from Global News’ Anne Leclair and the Canadian Press