Recreation programs in peril after province ends grant fund

Several Ottawa community organizations say they may be forced to make cuts after the province chose not to renew a fund designed to increase access to physical activity programs.  

Call for applications didn't come in 2019, community centres say

Rosanne Emard, acting director of the Lowertown Community Resource Centre, says the organization's swimming program is at risk. (Radio-Canada)

Several Ottawa community organizations say they may be forced to make cuts after the province chose not to renew a fund designed to increase access to physical activity programs. 

The Ontario Sport and Recreation Communities Fund (OSRCF) operated as a grant program, aiming to reduce barriers to physical activity programs and encourage healthy living.  

Previously, community centres and organizers had been able to apply for funding for either one-year or two-year projects, but the call for new applications didn't come in 2019.  

The Lowertown Community Resource Centre had received $100,000 in financial assistance from OSRCF for the past two years.

A portion of that money provided 75 children and 25 teens with a low-cost option to participate in the centre's Swordfish Swim Club between September and June.

The agreement between the service centre and the government expired, however, on March 31. 

"It's $20,000 [for swimming] that we do not have from anywhere else," said Rosanne Emard, the centre's acting director, in a French-language interview.

"Families are disappointed and worried that services are shrinking due to lack of funding, especially because of provincial government cuts."

The organization will have to look for other sources of funding to fill the shortfall, Emard said, which affects several of the centre's other programs as well.

Program 'in its final year,' province says

In an email, a spokesperson for the Ministry of Tourism, Culture and Sport said this year is the last one for the OSRCF program, citing a goal of moving toward "more targeted, tangible and sustainable outcomes."

"While providing physical activity opportunities, the OSRCF projects were open-ended and focused on short-term results," the ministry said.

Funding that's already been allocated for existing projects will still be disbursed throughout 2019 and into 2020, the statement said.   

The ministry also said the province is working on a new sport action plan in consultation with educators, sports organizations and Indigenous communities.   

Aiden Gibson, aquatic program coordinator at the City of Ottawa, said low-cost swimming programs are especially important for Canadian newcomers. (Radio-Canada)

'We've taught a whole neighbourhood how to swim'

Low-cost swimming programs are essential for new Canadian families, according to Aiden Gibson, instructor for the Swordfish Swim Club and the aquatic program coordinator at the City of Ottawa.

"New Canadians are four times more [likely] to not know how to swim," he said. "So especially here in this community, it's very important to have these kinds of programs to make sure that children are safe in the water."

Gibson said parents are disappointed at the prospect the program could be cancelled.

"We've taught a whole neighbourhood how to swim," he said.

In Vanier, OSRCF funded the "Move More" program, an after-school offering featuring sports that might otherwise have been less accessible for low-income families, said Camille Marcil, manager of youth programs at the Vanier Community Service Centre. 

"Kids were definitely asking if it was starting again next year … but unfortunately, it doesn't look like it," Marcil said. 

"We are looking for other funding for a similar program or the same program. But we haven't found anything yet." 

With files from Radio-Canada