A hockey team for older adults says it's devastated after the District of Squamish has pushed its rink time to the graveyard shift due to the high demand for ice time.
The district is the province's second-fastest-growing large municipality. Since 2016, the population has grown by 22.2 per cent, with many of them younger families.
The Hilltop Hockey team, made up of players 50 years old and up, says it is being pushed to a later ice time to make way for programs geared toward a younger demographic. The schedule change has decimated the team's enrolment, players say, creating a barrier for local seniors who want to stay active playing hockey.
"Two-thirds of the group that plays with us have to get up and go to work in the morning. So two-thirds of our group decided not to play," said Hilltop Hockey forward Roy Ramage.
The team has gone from roughly 50 players last season to 17 players this year.
The Hilltop Hockey team has been playing together for nearly two decades, but now that the district has changed this year's starting ice time to 10:45 p.m. on a Sunday night, the program's future remains uncertain.
"When we were younger, we used to come out and play at those 10:30, midnight times, but it just doesn't work for most seniors. As we get older, we need more sleep, not less," said Ramage.
Seventy-two-year-old Gilles Tetrault said the schedule change has had a detrimental impact on seniors' hockey in Squamish.
"A big part of it is getting out for the physical activity on a regular basis and the social interaction," said Tetrault.
The town's mayor, Armand Hurford, said demand far outweighs the facility's capacity. Brennan Park Recreation Centre is the only arena in Squamish and has one sheet of ice that is shared by its 24,000 residents.
Upgrades to existing infrastructure
In July, The district received $11.7 million in federal funding through the Green and Inclusive Community Buildings (GICB) program. Some of that money will go toward upgrading Brennan Recreation Centre.
The total cost of the retrofit project is estimated at $16.3 million and will include upgrades to the ice arena and pool heating/cooling system, an expansion renovation of the second-floor mezzanine for a room providing a fitness program with adaptable equipment and renovations to the ice rink's change rooms and lobby.
The arena was originally built in 1977 and was last upgraded with a new ice resurfacer in 2017.
Hurford said most of the existing infrastructure in Squamish needs to be upgraded, so it may be years before more sheets of ice are added to the arena.
"First and foremost are things like our new fire halls that we've undertaken, and we have a public works facility that needs to happen, as well as our public library and municipal building."
Seniors upset over unilateral time change
Tetrault said the new ice time was forced upon the group, despite the team's lobbying for an earlier time slot.
"The whole process I found to be very disrespectful because there was no consultation with us. It was just put on our laps."
For the past 18 years, the team has been alternating ice times with multiple user groups. The mayor says that was not an option this year due to growing demand.
"We're looking to have respect across all of the age groups," said 59-year-old Hilltop Hockey player Mark Milner. "You need a continuation of programs, and this is a key one for a lot of people. So that's what we're trying to get back."
The team has written letters to council requesting a meeting to discuss how the time change has impacted the team, but says it has not received a response.
"I would like the recreation department and the municipality to come up with an amicable solution to find one hour — that's all we're asking — at a reasonable time during the week," said Ramage.
Hurford said staff is reviewing the ice allocation process and policy and hopes to come up with a better solution by next season.