Patricia Young describes her home of Walker’s Point as a place where people believe in the importance of community.
“I think if you look up ‘community’ in the dictionary, you’ll see Walker’s Point listed,” she said.
Before the COVID-19 pandemic hit Canada, that community often gathered at the Walker’s Point Community Centre for activities and socializing: people went to check out books at the library inside, attend exercise classes, crafting sessions or the monthly potluck dinners.
Paola Randall, like Young, has lived in Walker’s Point for over 20 years. She spent a lot of time at the community centre before the pandemic: she’s part of the library’s executive board and used to play pickleball there.
“We see it as a hub,” she said. “It really connects us to all the services of the township, as well as bringing us together.”
Young, who’s part of the community centre’s hall board, said while people are understanding of the situation they’re in, the loss of some of their traditional events is felt.
“I’ve run into a few people and they have specifically said, ‘We really miss the potluck suppers,’” she said. She added, however, no one wants to “jeopardize people’s health and safety.”
Community centres in Bala, Port Carling, Minett and Milford Bay reopened Nov. 2, allowing 10 people maximum in their facilities at a time for an hour a day, booked in advance.
However, many feel they aren’t out of the woods yet. Residents, particularly seniors, don’t want to take the risk of infection by going out and are still leaning on the adjustments and virtual support systems they’ve developed during the pandemic in lieu of these in-person gathering places.
Part of the Walker’s Point Community Centre is open to the public for limited use. The library, which has 500 members, reopened on Nov. 4. It’s open Wednesdays and Fridays, from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m. and allows one person at a time into the library to check out or return books. The reopening, limited in its capacity, has been a mood-booster for many.
"I think people are just happy to have it there," Young said.
Heather Elliott works with the District of Muskoka, where she’s in charge of running free service programs for seniors in the region, including community centres in Torrance Bay, Milford Bay, Port Carling and Ullswater.
They host a handbell choir, a course on learning to use the computer and various social events — all held virtually now.
Once the pandemic began and people were confined to their homes for several weeks, Elliott said her team began reaching out to residents to see how they were faring physically and mentally.
“Many of them are living alone and life is very different for them during a pandemic,” she said, “but we see them logging in and participating in ways that I don’t think they ever would a year ago.”
While Young said she and the people she knows in the community have been doing well throughout the pandemic, she understands many must be feeling isolated.
Connections through Facebook, email and over the phone have become essential in Walker’s Point.
“We are definitely there for each other. It’s a very strong community,” Randall said.
Elliott said, for the health and safety of their elderly population, who are more vulnerable to the consequences of the virus, they haven’t transitioned into hosting indoor events.
“We’re hearing from seniors at this point that they’re not comfortable resuming in-person programming,” she said.
She said they’re prioritizing plans for outdoor events like walking groups in Muskoka Lakes trails this winter.
Walker’s Point residents, like Young, know one thing for certain: things are likely not going to change before the year is over. A clear sign of this is the cancellation of their annual holiday potluck, a hit event with local families and children, which ran out of the community centre.
Young is planning for a more quiet, subdued Christmas in town: “We just won’t have any of the normal socializing,” she said.
STORY BEHIND THE STORY: Our reporter wanted to see how residents are faring in places where the community centre is a cornerstone of local socialization and togetherness given limited openings during the pandemic.
Zahraa Hmood is a Local Journalism Initiative reporter covering the municipalities of Muskoka Lakes, Lake of Bays and Georgian Bay. Her reporting is funded by the Canadian government through its Local Journalism Initiative.
Zahraa Hmood, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, muskokaregion.com