Now entering its sixth decade, Kemoca Park lies as a testament to community efforts to provide a recreational oasis appreciated by many far and wide.
Back in the spring of 1970, on land donated by the Sacred Heart Parish, work began on a regional park immediately south of Montmartre, named for the three communities in the area: Kendal, Montmartre and Candiac. That donation, combined with other grants, allowed the community to develop a new baseball diamond, four softball diamonds, a swimming pool, a 400-metre track and a nine-hole golf course.
“It’s been a real asset to the village and the whole community, no question,” said Montmartre village mayor Rob Chittenden. “In the summer time, it’s always busy with campers and the pool brings in a lot of people from all over the area for swimming lessons.”
An old school house was the first building on the site, at the swimming pool, and it served the community until a fire in 1984 destroyed the structure. At a time when provincial government support for the regional parks waned, a former area resident, Mark Lucyk designed a new pool building with change room facilities which was made of concrete. Water filtration systems at the pool were also upgrades completed for the summer of 1985.
“We live right across the road from the area,” Chittenden said. “The last time we bought a family pass it was $150 for the whole year, dirt cheap. Our kids would just go across the street to the pool and practically lived in there. Or you did a round of golf for $8 per adult.”
A campground and large picnic shelter with a stage are also key components to the park, bringing tourists and seasonal campers to the area throughout the summer.
“We expanded the campground to 30 sites six or seven years ago,” Chittenden said. “We started off with 17 and we are pretty much always full.”
While there are plenty of local campers taking in the stars and sunsets at Kemoca Park, Chittenden sees plenty of vehicles coming off of Highway 48 to the park from Regina and other areas as well.
“There’s lots from the city that take up seasonal campsites,” Chittenden said. “They just love it out here for the summer. They can walk to the golf course if they want. The kids bike around town. I remember about 10 years ago there was a family that came out from Regina, and we were working in the yard. Their little guy was six or seven years old, and he’s out on the street with his little bike and they are out there following him. They ran after him at the corner. I just told them he’s fine. He could go all around town and you don’t need to worry about him going too far.”
A safe community is only one draw the park boasts, as the adjacent village of Montmartre has food, restaurant, gas and other services for campers.
“It adds a lot to the local economy because people come and buy their groceries and go to the gas station,” Chittenden said. “If you asked anyone at the local Co-op, or the restaurant, they are definitely busier when the campground is full. They support us quite well in town.”
The 300-person shelter can host family reunions and weddings, and is busy almost every weekend. In more recent years, the park has hosted a live All Folk’d Up music festival that doubles the population of the community for one summer weekend each July. The first festival was held in 2010 and it ran annually for a decade until the COVID-19 pandemic forced a cancellation of last year’s event.
A 1.3 kilometre walking trail around the park, sheltered with trees, is a popular year-round attraction, made even more important during the COVID-19 pandemic. At a time when people were encouraged to keep their distance from each other and stay inside whenever possible. the trail offered area residents the chance to have a socially-distanced respite in the outdoors, while maintaining their physical fitness with enjoyable strolls.
The park also commemorates the mosasaurus as its historical symbol. The reptile is said to have lived in the Montmartre area back in the days when Lake Agassiz covered much of western Canada in water. Plywood signs once recognized this, but they have since been removed and replaced with park entrance gates.
While the park has been a success for the past 50 years, the local communities will face challenges to make the next 50 years as strong. Facilities at the swimming pool, a major draw for the park will need to be replaced as they start to show their age. Whether those upgrades include a new swimming pool building or a full replacement of the swimming pool itself with a more accessible pool with ramps remains a question.
“Our pool is ending its life cycle so we are looking at replacing it within the next three to five years,” Chittenden said. “Some of the preliminary quotes we are looking at are $750,000 to $1 million. We are going to start saving up some money for it and will be doing some fundraising for it.”
If built, the facility would be more accessible to those with disabilities, with features such as a pool entry ramp and an infinity pool design, with a child-friendly shallow end, Chittenden said.
“One of the things you need to have is a strong local board with six or seven members on it, and they work really hard,” Chittenden said. “Nobody gets paid for the work they do, as it’s all volunteer and they keep it going. We have other volunteers who walk around once a month and clean things up as needed. Usually we have a work bee to take care of fallen branches in the spring. It’s a lot of volunteers who help keep this running.”
Fundraisers for the park have taken many forms over the years, including the Kemoca Park Rock-A-Thon in 1995. If you were expecting a lineup of bands, you would have been mistaken. Instead, people sat in rocking chairs for 24 hours, raising $2,500 for their efforts. Another Rock-A-Thon was held in 1997.
Keith Borkowsky, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Quad Town Forum