Squamish Nation Coun. Wilson Williams’ family has coached or played lacrosse at the Harry Jerome Community Recreation Centre on for four generations and now he worries decades of tradition will end with him.
The 55-year-old community centre located on 23rd Street East in North Vancouver, B.C., is scheduled to close in December and, according to the city, construction of a replacement centre will begin across the street in 2022 — with its completion not slated until 2025.
Williams, and other Harry Jerome users, say tearing down the original centre before the new one opens is a tough pill to swallow.
“It’s becoming very dire,” said Williams, speaking Friday on CBC’s The Early Edition. “If we have a four- to five-year gap of playing on the North Shore, lacrosse could die in the community.”
Williams is president of the North Shore Indians Lacrosse Club, which plays in the West Coast Senior Lacrosse Association. He said the club community includes child development programs and he worries without a space to provide consistent programming, it will be harder to encourage younger kids to come play.
“It’s a whole community, a lacrosse community, which is what we look at from a First Nations lens … and [we are] really trying to build that family to embrace lacrosse, which is the Creator’s game,” said Williams.
In a statement, the City of North Vancouver said the land on which the existing centre sits has to be leased out to help finance the new one. Mayor Linda Buchanan says plans are in the works to help mitigate service gaps.
“I understand that people have concerns about what this will mean for them. That’s why the city and the North Vancouver Recreation and Culture Commission are working on an interim service plan that will ensure the rec needs of people are met as we deliver this new facility,” said the mayor in a statement.
But Williams said the city has not been very engaged with centre users about its plans so far.
“There has been a lack of consultation,” he said, noting he heard the same sentiment from two hockey organizations, as well as gymnastics and swim club organizers.
Individual residents are also upset.
Vivian Cheng has launched a petition to try to get the city to keep the old facility open until the new one is ready.
She says the closure will make it harder for children from low-income families, seniors and people with disabilities to access activities if they have to travel to do so. Her petition also points out that people who work at the current centre could lose their jobs.
As of Friday morning, the petition had 2,800 signatures.
“I was very surprised that they were doing it after COVID, after we have learned that human connection is so important and our health is so important — and this centre brings people together,” said Cheng.