Manitoba

St. Boniface residents' temperatures rise after pool closed on weekends amid sweltering heat

Residents in St. Boniface are confused and concerned about why the City of Winnipeg has decided to keep the Happyland Park outdoor pool closed on weekends this summer.

City of Winnipeg blames lifeguard shortage for reduced operations at Happyland Park pool

An empty outdoor swimming pool is shown behind a chain link fence on a sunny day.
Residents are upset because Happyland Pool is closed on the weekends during the hottest time of the year. (Travis Golby/CBC)

Residents in St. Boniface were left steaming this weekend as the gates surrounding the outdoor pool in Happyland Park remained locked due to a shortage of lifeguards.

"I would love to bring my eight-month-old son, he loves to splash around in water and play around, and water is his favourite activity at the moment," said Corey Golden.

The free community pool is currently open Monday to Friday but closed on Saturdays and Sundays, including this past weekend when sweltering temperatures in Winnipeg rose into the low 30s with high humidity levels.

Two years of intermittent services and a reduction in certification courses have created a shortage of lifeguards, a spokesperson for the City of Winnipeg said in a statement. 

"While we have maintained pre-COVID service levels over the last several months, there is a greater need for instructors and lifeguards this summer with seasonal and indoor pools open concurrently for the first time in two years," the statement said.

A woman with long hair and glasses is standing in front of a chain link fence surrounding a pool on a sunny day.
Teresa Cwik is a member of the South St. Boniface Residents Association (Travis Golby/CBC)

Some residents in St. Boniface wonder why the city couldn't find a way to rotate staff through its pools in order to enable all facilities to operate on weekends, which is the only time some families can visit the pool due to their work schedules.

"The city should find the money to keep the pools open all the time, but if for some reason they can't — and I don't understand the reason at all — but they could rotate, they could rotate and make it fair," said Teresa Cwik of the South St. Boniface Residents Association.

The pool near the corner of Marion Street and Archibald Street serves a community with many low-income residents, many of whom don't have access to a vehicle to drive to another pool, Cwik said.

City staff do their best to spread leisure activities across the city, the spokesperson said.

Worried about pool's future

Sandra Dupuis, also a member of the South St. Boniface Residents Association, says she worries the cutbacks at the Happyland pool could be setting the stage for the city to permanently close the facility.

"We're worried that we're going to be losing everything, and we don't have anything else that we can give up in this area. We need what we have here," she said.

This isn't the first time the pool has faced staffing shortages. In 2017, residents who spoke to CBC News said they were forced to wait in long lines as a shortage of staff limited the capacity to 15 people at a time.

"There was always staffing issues," said Rodney Kennington, who wanted to bring his children to the pool on the weekend and was surprised to find it closed. 

City staff do their best to minimize the overall impact on recreational services across the city, said St. Boniface Coun. Matt Allard.

"I'm not aware of any reason why our pools in St. Boniface would be any different, and I know that Happyland is a pool that we have in St. Boniface that has been invested in in my term," he said.

In addition to the impact of the pandemic on recruitment and training, the Canadian Red Cross is no longer offering certification for lifeguards, the city statement said.

"We are currently planning to transition to the swim and lifeguard training programs of the Lifesaving Society of Canada," the statement said.

"While we have acknowledged certifications from both organizations in the past, streamlining to one certification will assist with quicker employment eligibility."

The city is also implementing an Indigenous Youth Lifeguard Program to help youth obtain certification, and revising its entry-level Aquatic Instructor position to encourage applications and increase swimming lesson capacity.

WATCH | Swimmers react to pool being closed on weekends:

'Happyland' pool closed on weekends

4 months ago
Duration 1:40
Currently, there aren't enough lifeguards to safely staff the pool on weekends

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Cameron MacLean is a journalist for CBC Manitoba living in Winnipeg, where he was born and raised. He has more than a decade of experience reporting in the city and across Manitoba, covering a wide range of topics, including courts, politics, housing, arts, health and breaking news. Email story tips to cameron.maclean@cbc.ca.

With files from Joanne Roberts

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