Insufficient funds

Winnipeg’s draft budget prioritizes flashy, inaccessible recreation

The Happyland Pool is one of a number of Winnipeg recreation facilities on the chopping block in the city’s 2024 draft budget.

Daniel Crump

One of the two public tennis courts a block from my downtown apartment has been missing a net since the fall. This was a more pressing issue in October, when temperatures were above freezing and the surface was still playable – but just barely.

The courts are regularly cracked, flooded and covered in leaves and litter. Still, I consider them one of the perks of the neighbourhood, along with spaces to read and picnic on the Legislative grounds and proximity to the Millennium Library, riverwalk and Nestaweya River Trail – when they’re actually open.

I didn’t realize how inadequate Winnipeg’s public recreation infrastructure is until I visited Australia this winter.

One of the first texts I sent home – after showing everyone the kangaroos in my backyard – was from Streets Beach, a stretch of free, lifeguard-patrolled pools, sand, lounge chairs and splash pads in downtown Brisbane.

And this wasn’t a one-off. I walked through botanical gardens that prioritize education and conservation (much like Winnipeg’s FortWhyte Alive, but without the $10 adult admission fee) in four different cities. It’s also free to visit the permanent collections at most Australian museums.

These cities have free public bathrooms, showers and water-bottle refill stations, along with almost unbelievably well-maintained beach-volleyball courts, skate parks, playgrounds, boardwalks, outdoor fitness stations, cycling paths and picnic shelters.

It’s arguably easier to gather, exercise and spend time outdoors in beachfront cities that don’t experience negative temperatures for half of the year. However, Winnipeg could – and should – do more to maintain its existing public spaces and invest in low-cost recreation options.

Disappointingly, Winnipeg’s draft budget for 2024 would cut funding to some of the city’s remaining community spaces.

The proposed budget, released on Feb. 7, includes plans to replace or decommission 20 wading pools and close the Eldon Ross indoor pool, as well as the Happyland and Windsor Park outdoor pools. Some of these sites will be converted into splash pads, which, while typically cheaper to staff and maintain, don’t directly serve older youth and adult populations.

Reddit users on r/Winnipeg note a disturbing trend: the city is seemingly closing smaller community centres, pools and rinks in favour of larger recreation complexes. However, most of these new, upgraded centres are in the suburbs, leaving downtown and central residents with even fewer low-cost options.

Meanwhile, other crucial recreation and public services are given meagre slices of the fiscal pie. Libraries will receive a $5.9 million funding increase to hire more full-time staff members and extend their summer hours.

The city will also fund the construction of a new northwest library.

This is an improvement, but it still won’t come close to addressing the underfunding, staffing issues and toxic workplace environments Winnipeg Public Library employees have spoken out about over the past year.

The city could address these concerns, instead of announcing plans to build a $1.5 million covered outdoor rink that most Winnipeggers will have to travel across or around the city to access.

It could repair the Glenlee rinks that are apparently “too far gone” to open. It could extend operating hours for the Amoowigamig public washroom, install public drinking fountains or replace hostile architecture with people-friendly public benches.

At the very least, the city could replace the nets on its tennis courts.

Danielle Doiron (they/she) is the copy and style editor of The Uniter. Lately, they call Winnipeg, Philadelphia, Fargo and Canberra home.

Published in Volume 78, Number 19 of The Uniter (February 29, 2024)

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