Thunder Bay

Soccer players in Thunder Bay, Ont., have been waiting years for indoor facility. Now some train in a garage

With indoor soccer space in Thunder Bay at a premium, one local man found a unique, but less-than-ideal, way to get his kids, and some of their fellow players, some winter training time this winter.

Players practice in garage due to lack of space for turf sports in the city

Thunder Bay resident Richard Bosch found a commercial garage for his kids, and some of their friends, to practice in this winter due to a lack of space for indoor soccer in Thunder Bay. (Richard Bosch)

With indoor soccer space in Thunder Bay at a premium, one local man found a unique, but less-than-ideal, way to get his kids, and some of their fellow players, some winter training time this winter.

Space to play indoor turf options in Thunder Bay has been lacking since the collapse of the city's Sports Dome, located on the CLE grounds, in a 2016 winter storm.

And while city council has considered constructing a permanent, all-season turf-sports facility — recent estimates put the cost of that facility at about $44 million — that project has stalled.

"The last few years have been rather difficult," said Richard Bosch, who has two 16-year-old children who have been playing soccer since they were three. "We've had to be as resilient and ingenious as possible."

Bosch said the problem was made worse with the COVID-19 pandemic, as that meant school gymnasiums were inaccessible. And while there was some space available for a time in a gym at Lakehead University's Bora Laskin building, that has since been renovated and is no longer usable by indoor soccer players.

"I have a very generous landlord in the community who had a garage," Bosch said. "I phoned him up, explained our situation and we had access to his garage."

"Not the ideal environment for playing any sport whatsoever, but when you have no options, that's what you take," he said. "We had five kids in there, about a 20 foot by 30 foot space, concrete floor, a couple of sheared-off metal pins on the floor that we had to put cones on so the kids didn't step on them or get injured, but it allowed them to get in and get some extra training."

The space was used for about two months, in the evenings, as renovation work was taking place during the day, Bosch said.

"The silver lining is four of the five kids that were training there were on the team that won the provincial indoor soccer championship," he said.

But the garage won't be available in the future, and while Bosch did search for another usable space, nothing has come up.

Bosch, who spoke to CBC News while he was visiting Toronto on Friday, said the lack of space is prompting some young players to look at leaving Thunder Bay.

"There are several kids who are currently ... down here, and they're trying out for our teams in the Greater Toronto area," he said. "They have facilities all over the place and we don't have any."

"Once you come into into a place where you see all the extra opportunities, it's going to be difficult for them to want to come back."

The lack of room for indoor soccer in Thunder Bay is a problem that Michael Veneziale, president of Soccer Northwest Ontario, is familiar with.

"Thankfully, we were able to get a hold of one side of the Tournament Centre and put turf in there, but the original idea for that was was only kind of a two-year fix," Veneziale said. "We are already in our second year."

"We've had to continue to do what we've been doing, and limiting the amount of teams and limiting the amount of games teams can play," he said. "I have to imagine we're running around 30 per cent capacity, 35 per cent capacity at best."

"We're turning down a lot of people."

Issue up for debate at city council, again 

The proposed permanent turf sports facility will be back before Thunder Bay City Council on Monday, in the form of a report providing an administrative update on the project.

The report states that the city is waiting for word on possible funding for a turf sports facility from Infrastructure Canada.

"We thought certainly by now, if not a month or so ago, we would have had a response from from the government on this application," Thunder Bay Mayor Bill Mauro said. "But I I can appreciate that these programs are often oversubscribed and there's a lot of work to do to go through them and vet all the applications."

If the funding application is successful, the city could receive up to $22.4 million, the report states.

The city had previously asked for expressions of interest from members of the private sector interested in partnering with the city for either short- or long-term solutions to the lack of indoor turf sport space.

According to Monday's report, the city received four short-term proposals, and four long-term proposals.

"Once we we hear about the application to the federal government, we'll then do a deeper dive on on the applications that that have come in on the expression of interest," Mauro said. "It's just a bit premature to speak to any of the detail in them."

In the meantime, city administration is not recommending the city proceed with any of the short-term proposals.

Bosch said he'd like to see the city build something that can accommodate everyone, not just soccer players, and could even potentially be used as an emergency shelter if needed.

"I want to see something that is useful for the entire community," he said. "What I'm hoping is that we're going to get an indoor turf facility that can not only be used for soccer, but a multitude of other sports, as well as something that our elderly population in the wintertime can come into and go for a walk when it's minus 40 and slippery outside."

Veneziale agreed, saying the new facility shouldn't be aimed at higher-end soccer players, but be accessible for recreational players, too.

"That's always been our goal," he said. "When you're looking at the higher end, when it's a competitive, where you have kids that are working to try to go on tournaments, get scholarships, go away for soccer versus ... somebody that's trying to play recreational, they're both really missing out on this."