Montreal

Pointe-Saint-Charles residents plead with 'The Grinch' to give them back their YMCA

Dozens of people from Hochelaga-Maisonneuve and Pointe-Saint-Charles marched into Quebec’s YMCA head office Friday morning to protest against the imminent closure of the Y's aquatic and physical activity programs in their neighbourhoods.

YMCA shutting down athletic, aquatic programs in Hochelaga-Maisonneuve and Pointe-Saint-Charles at end of year

Protesters gathered at YMCA Quebec's headquarters Friday, demanding that their athletic programs remain open. (Brian Lapuz/CBC)

Dozens of people from Hochelaga-Maisonneuve and Pointe-Saint-Charles marched into Quebec's YMCA head office Friday morning to protest against the imminent closure of the Y's aquatic and physical activity programs in their neighbourhoods.

Protesters chanted Christmas carols as they delivered postcards to YMCA Quebec's administrators, who they referred to collectively as "The Grinch." 

The Hochelaga-Maisonneuve YMCA has played a large role in Heather Villaudy's life for the past 23 years. A former employee of the centre, she is frustrated that she will no longer have access to its services. 

She is especially concerned about the many seniors who use the centre's athletic programs. 

"There's seniors in the pool and in the general program who are poor. They can't buy courses à la carte. They don't have the money. They will be falling into a depression," she said. 

"They are going to be left hanging." 

Heather Villaudy is concerned about the many seniors who use the centre's athletic programs. (Brian Lapuz/CBC)

For Shona Watt, the end of athletic programs at the Pointe-Saint-Charles Y mean she may soon have no place to go to exercise. 

"I've been on maternity leave for the past two months, and my baby does not take a bottle so I'm really tied to her," Watt said. "I only have about an hour to go out and exercise and come back."

The YMCA is only a few minutes' walk from her home, and that gives her the opportunity to get the exercise she needs. When the Y shuts down, she is not sure where she will go and is afraid she'll have to spend more money. 

"It will have a big impact on my mental and physical health."

'Heart-wrenching' decision: YMCA president

YMCA president Stéphane Vaillancourt told CBC Montreal's Daybreak the decision to shut down the programs was a "heart-wrenching" one to make. 

He said in the new year, the non-profit organization will be looking into how it might relocate some programs to other locations. 

"We've been up to the maximum of our resources to be able to sustain these YMCAs," said Vaillancourt. 

"We acknowledge not everyone will be able to move, but we have seen some people starting to move already." 

Vaillancourt said that one of their programs, the alternative gym, an exercise program for homeless people in the area, will be moved to the Y's downtown location. 

In the case of the Guy-Favreau YMCA location, he said, the Y had no choice but to close it because the building had structural issues and the Y could not afford the renovations. He said the building also has mould and mildew problems. 

"We've worked at all the possible solutions, and that's the case for all of our YMCAs where we made a decision," he said. 

Fiona Crossling, the executive director of the Pointe–Sainte-Charles community group Share the Warmth, the way in which the closures happened was unacceptable.

Crossling, who was at Friday's protest, said she is frustrated by the company's lack of communication with community members, and would have liked to see a public consultation before the decision was made. 

"Especially people who live in the area of the YMCA, there's a lot of social housing, a lot of people who could otherwise not afford physical activities. So the idea of pulling out the sporting and the physical activities related to the membership just doesn't work," she said.

The aquatic and athletic programs at the Pointe-Saint-Charles YMCA will shut down as of Dec. 31. After-school programs will continue to run out of that building. 

That same day, the Guy-Favreau YMCA in downtown Montreal will close completely, while everything except the skating rink at the Hochelaga-Maisonneuve branch will also close. 

With files from Brian Lapuz

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