THUNDER BAY – Guest OP-ED – I have to admit I never swam in Dease Pool. I will also admit that I grew up quite poor in a low rental development in the north end of Winnipeg surrounded by brick walls. Brick walls that we used to play on in the winter, never knowing that they were meant to hide the poverty that existed within the community behind them. The community I lived in was very turf oriented as many low-income communities are. You just didn’t wander behind those brick walls or walk through other neighbourhoods if you didn’t belong there. I assure you, these unwritten rules still apply today. Although we may not have been a community of choice we were a community non-the less. Behind these walls we were equal, whatever the measure was; outside of it we were somehow less than, viewed by many as damaged goods.
My parents were the parents that struggled with addiction and although they eventually won their battles, they caused unintentional pain and suffering within their family structure. Within our household, there were dynamics that were not conducive to the challenges that I faced as a child trying to navigate the social structures that exist in the community at large. I needed other role models, teachers and support systems “within” my community to allow me to see there were alternative ways of living. Many parents, including my own, did not mind accepting hand-ups, like a community pool with young mentors for their children, but they did mind handouts such as sponsored activities to other facilities in the city. They were not going to put their children on display as the “poor kids” who could not pay.
Dease Pool like Widnall is more than concrete filled with water. They are pools of dignity filled with hope that tomorrow may be a better day. My community pool, like Dease, was the lifeline that allowed me to just be a child for the afternoon, not the navigator of solutions within a dysfunctional home. I could enjoy the sun and the water knowing I was free and safe from the household turmoil, where my friends and I could dream of a brighter future. We were not dreaming of wealth, we were dreaming of a day when we were old enough to walk out behind those brick walls and participate in the world.
The recent decision to build the indoor turf facility for thirty million dollars, while only eight months earlier denying a low-income neighbourhood their only summer recreation was shocking to many. Past councils knew that it was their duty to ensure that all neighbourhoods, including low-income neighbourhoods, had recreational facilities to keep children and youth safe and occupied. There was a sense of duty to allow people their dignity no matter what their household income, and promote equality within the community at large.
Winnipeg eventually removed those brick walls and it is time that Thunder Bay City Council removes the barriers blocking McKellar Ward from rebuilding their pool. Council and administration did not look for Provincial or Federal funding to save Dease Pool, but they are sure looking at these funding mechanisms to build their golden egg legacy project that will somehow draw people to live in Thunder Bay, and help in the reconciliation process. The only legacy I see this council leaving is a legacy of taking the last bit of dignity from a struggling community, and putting their children on display as trophies of their successful closure of Dease Pool.