Happy Gang in Sundridge staying at Village Municipal Building one more year

The members of the Happy Gang in the Village of Sundridge are somewhat relieved with a lease Sundridge town council has signed with the seniors club.

Lawrie Vincer, president of the Happy Gang, told The Nugget the relief is temporary because the lease lets the members remain at the Municipal Building on Main Street for one more year giving them time to find another home.

The club members have met at the town hall building for years.

But for some time town council has been debating using the Happy Gang space as an Emergency Operations Centre (EOC).

EOCs are provincially mandated and with little other space available, town council has debated converting the Happy Gang space into its Emergency Operations Centre site.

Vincer said the conversion issue has been ongoing for a year and that the Happy Gang has been looking for another home.

But the search has been tough.

“We've tried finding another venue but unfortunately there hasn't been anything that suits our needs or the needs of the landlord,” Vincer said.

For a time it seemed Sundridge and Strong might be able to share an EOC and Strong would provide the location.

That would have let the Happy Gang remain at the Sundridge Municipal Building.

However, Sundridge eventually decided housing the EOC within the Village Municipal Building was the best course of action because the site is efficient and is best suited to guide residents through an emergency.

In addition, a staff report states housing the EOC within the Village Municipal Building ensures compliance with applicable legislation.

Vincer made it clear the Happy Gang is not opposed to any EOC.

“The Happy Gang has no qualms with the Village creating an EOC,” Vincer said.

“It's a requirement and we understand that.”

But he questioned why three municipalities – Sundridge, Strong and Joly – that are so close to one another should each have their own EOC.

Given the close proximity between communities he said “in our opinion this area should have a joint EOC” that serves all three communities.

In making the argument for a single EOC Vincer said “if something is going to happen in Strong, it's also going to affect Sundridge,” adding the opposite was also true that whatever impacts Sundridge would also affect Strong and Joly.

However Vincer acknowledged that if the Sundridge town hall site is the only one that's suitable for a Sundridge EOC, then “the Happy Gang is prepared to accept that.”

There is one other site that may work for the Happy Gang and it's the Sundridge and District Medical Centre.

In June the medical centre committee agreed to look into the cost of renovating space at the centre's lower level.

Vincer said that site would very likely serve the needs of the seniors club but there is no word yet on what renovating the medical centre space would cost.

Vincer said the Happy Gang is open to any reasonable location as long as the site isn't remote. The Happy Gang has been an incorporated organization since March 1981.

There are more than 80 members nowadays but pre-COVID the membership stood at about 150 people.

The club holds monthly meetings 10 months of the year and engages seniors in several activities.

Three days a week the members meet for workshops to make crafts and two nights of the week there are card playing games.

Each month the seniors enjoy potluck dinners as well as an annual Christmas dinner and a major summer time dinner.

Although most of the club members are from Sundridge, Strong and Joly, other Happy Gang members come in from South River, Magnetawan, Katrine and all communities in between.

The one-year lease begins Jan. 1, 2023.

With the clock ticking, Vincer said he's met with the new mayor of Sundridge and suggested that members of the Happy Gang and the new town council work together to help the club find a new home.

Vincer added Mayor Justine Leveque “was very considerate of our circumstances and needs.”

Rocco Frangione is a Local Journalism Initiative reporter who works out of the North Bay Nugget. The Local Journalism Initiative is funded by the Government of Canada.

Rocco Frangione, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The North Bay Nugget