Dozens of east-end Toronto residents protest threatened pool closure

Ward 30 Toronto-Danforth Councillor Paula Fletcher (right) and Councillor Mary-Margaret McMahon (Ward 32, Beaches-East York) share a hug Sunday, Feb. 12 as they address a rally held at S.H. Armstrong Community Centre in support of the centre’s swimming pool, which is at risk of being closed down.

City budget recommends closing Leslieville pool to save $85,000

Beach Mirror

With the future of their community swimming pool at stake, a committed group of more than 100 east enders endured wintry conditions for a rally to save the facility outside S.H. Armstrong Community Centre on Sunday.

The pool at S.H. Armstrong was placed on the chopping block in the city’s budget, with the $85,000 it costs to operate the facility earmarked as a way for the city to save money. That enraged the community, who argued the pool is a vital part of the community.

Parents and children were joined by local councillors in calling on the city to reverse the decision.
The raucous crowd chanted “swimming is cool, save our pool” at the rally, and a number of speakers took the mike to speak of the pool’s importance.

Local resident Sara Ehrhardt noted the pool is a vital resource to her and her young son Clarence. They were at swim class on Sunday morning prior to the rally, and Ehrhardt said the pool is a crucial resource for families like hers.

“We’re one of many, many new families with young children that have moved into the area,” she said. “We live right by the water (Lake Ontario) and I want to make sure that my son has the opportunity to learn to swim and I want to make sure that other young children in the neighbourhood have the chance to access city programming from their community centre to learn to swim.”

Ehrhardt pointed out that the last consultation on the community centre happened in 2012.

Jennifer King, who has two young children, called on the city to take a second look at the community before making the call to cut the pool. She pointed out that the demographics in the area have changed dramatically in the five years since the last consultation.

“My kids weren’t even born in 2012,” she said. “I was at the pool this morning with my kids, and none of the kids who were in the pool were born in 2012. I think the city should make the decision based on what’s happening now and into the future.”

Angie Law, one of the rally’s organizers, concurred, adding that the community’s proximity to Lake Ontario make swimming a vital life skill for young people in the area.

“If we cut programming here at the pool, we are potentially risking lives,” she said.

Residents noted the pool was always packed and that, if anything, the community centre needs more programming, not less. The nearest pool, at the Jimmie Simpson Recreation Centre, is similarly busy and its programming is free in order to cater to families in that neighbourhood who are on tight budgets.

“Do we want to be taking spots away from people who are in need?” Law asked.

Shiralee Hudson-Hill noted that she lives close to Jimmie Simpson but has never been able to get into a class due to high demand. For her, the pool at S.H. Armstrong is a much-needed community resource.

“We can’t reduce programs when there aren’t even program spots to go around as is,” she said.

Residents noted the need for a pool is even more critical given that condo towers are in the works on Queen Street. That will add even more young families to the neighbourhood and add more pressure to swimming resources in the area.

Ward 32 councillor Mary-Margaret McMahon has put forth a motion at council to establish a working committee to find ways to increase usage of the pool. She hopes her fellow councillors will see fit to remove the pool from the chopping block.

“This is a community hub and it means something to everyone,” she said. “It’s not about dollars and cents, it’s about common sense and supporting a community hub.”

McMahon noted the council vote on whether to keep the pool would be a tight one and urged residents to call or email Mayor John Tory and her fellow councillors to stress its value to the neighbourhood.

“It’s just not right to take those (city programming) hours out,” said ward 30 councillor Paula Fletcher. “All the condos on Queen coming along – where are they going to swim?”

The pool’s potential closure has garnered plenty of attention, thanks in part to Olympic gold medallist Penny Oleksiak, who has benefited from city programming throughout her rise up the swimming ranks. Her calls to save the pool caught the eye of the mayor and drew widespread support from those in the community.

Council is expected to make a decision on the pool’s fate at its Wednesday meeting.