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MP Gord Johns backs ice rink and swimming pool facility for Tofino-Ucluelet

West Coast Multiplex Society hopes a petition creates enough buzz to generate federal funding
Tyson Barrie and Tyler Ennis joined a cohort of current and former NHL players at a ball hockey game in Ty-Histanis on Aug. 17, 2023, to lobby and raise awareness for the West Coast Multiplex project. (Andrew Bailey photo)

The West Coast Multiplex Society hopes a recent petition will create enough buzz to convince the federal government to increase spending on recreation facilities in rural communities.

The society has spent over 20 years working on bringing a swimming pool and ice rink facility to the Tofino-Ucluelet region.

That facility’s current estimate cost sits at $50 million and the Tla-o-qui-aht First Nation is leading a grant application to secure funding for the facility.

The First Nation initiated the petition alongside the Multiplex Society and found support from Courtenay—Alberni MP Gord Johns.

“Throughout its history, the West Coast Multiplex Society has worked tirelessly to partner with the region’s community-based organizations to maximize the value, utilization and impact of the planned facility,” Johns said through a recent media release. “In addition to addressing important social determinants of health and mental health providing preventative and protective factors for youth, the WCM will be a significant asset to the region’s general wellbeing. I am excited to see renewed efforts to bring the project to fruition and look forward to presenting this meaningful petition to the House of Commons.”

The petition received over 650 signatures and Johns tabled it on Feb. 6.

“Recreation and wellness centres provide opportunities for communities to gather, connect and stay healthy through physical activity,” Johns said in the House of Commons.

“Research shows that recreational wellness centres promote personal health and well-being among users and recreational facilities play a critical role in the rehabilitation of workers recovering from injuries in the workplace.”

He added that without adequate recreational facilities, communities find it challenging to attract and retain seniors, youth and families.

“The benefits of recreation and wellness facilities to individuals and communities have been well-researched and documented,” he said. “Our communities need more facilities, such as the West Coast Multiplex, which has been in planning for over 20 years, to offer diverse programs, which are accessible by all our populations…They’re calling on the federal government to invest heavily in infrastructure and recreational facilities to help keep people in communities.”

The proposed $50 million West Coast Multiplex project is slated to be built within the Tla-o-qui-aht First Nation’s territory near the Tofino - Long Beach Airport and would include a swimming pool and ice rink as well as serve as a gathering space and potential high-ground emergency preparedness facility.

“As the need for better wellness facilities becomes more dire, we are working with private, public and government entities to help achieve the community’s vision for a comprehensive wellness facility by securing funding to build and operate it – as it will have an enduring, transformational impact,” said Samantha Hackett, Chair of the WCM Society. “The response to our Health and Wellness Infrastructure Petition was overwhelmingly positive and signals the ongoing support for the West Coast Multiplex. We are very excited about the potential impact it will have on funding allocation for this community project and others like it.”

Hackett told the Westerly News that the petition was timed to align with several federal funding grants expected to open in 2024.

“We are making some great headway working with Gord,” Hackett said. “This is obviously a large funding grant that we’re going to be putting in so we’re making sure that we’re highlighting to the federal government the importance of significant funding to health, wellness and recreation, because it’s not always a priority and just how important it is to rural communities like ours.”

West Coast residents voted in favour of funding the multiplex’s operating costs through taxation back in 2012, but the project has hit several speed bumps since then and construction has not begun as the society looks to raise the capital cost needed to build the facility.

Hackett said the long wait has been surprising, but she hopes the petition will create traction towards getting shovels in the ground.

“I think it is surprising because it is so obvious that we need it and so obvious that it’s important and would be great, but it’s a huge project and our communities do not have anything similar,” she said.

“The reason that projects like this don’t happen is because communities don’t feel like they should or could have such an amazing facility, so we get focused on smaller projects…Really it comes down to communities not feeling that they deserve these kinds of facilities. So, it’s a movement and movements don’t happen quickly.”

She added that the facility would fill a significant gap in the West Coast’s wellness needs.

“It’s about bringing the eight communities together in a positive, proactive, health and wellness way to have a gathering place, a safe space that’s recreation-focused to prioritize our health and wellness in our eight communities proactively and to bring our communities together,” she said.

Several current and former NHL players travelled to the Tla-o-qui-aht community of Ty-Histanis last summer to promote the multiplex project, including Tyson Barrie, Mike Smith and Tyler Ennis and Hackett said the society is working with Barrie to bring that event back to Tla-o-qui-aht territory this year.

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READ MORE: NHL players promote potential multiplex in Tofino-Ucluelet region

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Andrew Bailey

About the Author: Andrew Bailey

I arrived at the Westerly News as a reporter and photographer in January 2012.
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