Members of North Vancouver’s box lacrosse community say the sport could be shattered for years to come as the closure of the Harry Jerome Community Recreation Centre next month leaves players and organizations without a viable playing arena.
North Shore Indians General Manager Darcy Dagan believes the closure of the facility will “destroy” the community.
Noting the toll the COVID-19 pandemic has already taken on the sport, Dagan is concerned the need for the community to travel off the North Shore to find other arenas to play in will decimate the number of people playing the sport, and ultimately affect the overall number of players moving from junior to senior ranks in future years.
“And when this new facility finally gets built, we would have nobody, we would just be coming back to basically an empty house,” he said.
City of North Vancouver council confirmed at their Oct. 18 meeting the existing Harry Jerome facility will close on Dec. 31. Earlier this month, the city said the centre would stay open with limited services, such as drop-in swim and skate sessions, until the end of January 2022.
The city has garnered attention for the behind-closed-doors council meeting that determined the existing HJCRC facility would close while the new facility is built across the street. The city had previously told rec users the existing facility would remain open while construction was underway, until completion slated for December 2025.
Although the city has been working to provide the lacrosse community with other options and playing arenas on the North Shore, Dagan said they’re not workable.
“They're trying to find us options to stay on the North Shore, but they're just not viable options at all. They're talking about building a roof on an outdoor box. You can't be asking kids to play in an outdoor box. Quite honestly, they're dangerous,” he said, adding the city would need to put a “ton” of money into upgrading the offered facilities.
But Dagan said the only option that would work for the Indians is moving off the North Shore, into Burnaby or another municipality, which brings its own problems of accessibility and impact to its fan base.
“Unfortunately, for our level of lacrosse, there's nothing in Vancouver that can accommodate us. Burnaby is really the only option, [and] now you're just getting way too far for our fans. We're already going to lose a lot of fans that can’t make it out to Burnaby. We have a lot of Elders as fans, and they have mobility issues, as far as getting around,” he said. “It's going to obviously hurt the culture of lacrosse, which is very important to Squamish Nation people.”
Dagan said the lack of consultation by the city before making the decision to close HJCRC meant he and the Indians found out about the closure through word of mouth from the lacrosse community.
“We were notified of the new arena being built, but there was no discussion about a disruption in service,” he said, noting the lack of communication hasn’t allowed for the Indians to develop a plan for the transition.
“If we had two or three seasons [to prepare], we know it's coming, we have an opportunity to prepare, we know it's only going to be for one season, we could probably make do,” he said.
For Dagan, the impending loss of lacrosse on the North Shore is personally devastating.
“I love the game of lacrosse. To me, it's the greatest sport in the world. I spent many years playing for the North Shore Indians, it was an honour to play here, and it's an honour to be part of this team,” he said. “To not be able to provide the community what I was provided with when I played here, it's really hard to swallow.”
Shannon Webber, president of the North Shore Minor Lacrosse Association, reiterated much of the same concerns Dagan and the Indians have, including the lack of consultation by the city.
Webber attended a meeting with the city in August, when she said it was the first time the concerns of the lacrosse community were heard.
“I said, ‘You do realize that the existing facilities at Karen Magnussen [Recreation Centre] cannot be used for lacrosse because of its low ceiling height,’ and that's where it was introduced, the first discussion about the facility space that we had on the North Shore and why it wasn't suitable,” she said.
Eyeing a similar move for the junior league off the North Shore into Burnaby, Webber is concerned that asking for another community to make space for the organization's programming just isn’t viable.
“We usually have between 25 and 30 hours of programming a week for our minor sports. The challenge that I see, is asking another community to take on 30 hours of programming in the prime hours of their community-based programming rental,” she said.
Webber reiterates that the ongoing pandemic has had a negative impact on her organization’s participation rates, saying that sign-ups for the 2021 season were down 50 per cent.
“In 2020, our season was completely cancelled because of COVID. And in 2021, we ran a limited skills and drills program, with no games until late June, early July. We've seen how that has challenged our numbers, and our participation is down already,” she said. “If you take our sport, and you take it completely out of access of the North Shore and place it in other communities, it's easy to see after four years, what that looks like in terms of participation.”
In a statement to North Shore News, the city said the recreation and culture commission “have been working hard over the past year to meet with our local sport, activity organizations and recreation user groups to inform them about what to expect during the construction of the new Harry Jerome Community Recreation Centre and how to assist them with alternate facilities during this upcoming transition.”
“We recognize that lacrosse has a long history and is important in North Vancouver. Staff have been working with the local lacrosse teams and associations in efforts to find interim venues during construction of the new HJCRC. Alternate locations in a nearby community have been found for the North Shore Indians Senior B team and the North Shore Junior B team. Options for minor lacrosse are being actively pursued,” it wrote.
Webber notes that moving the sport from the North Shore, effectively reducing the access players and families have to training and games, will have the greatest effect on participation.
“By creating barriers to access, we can't possibly expect that we'll have the same level of participation,” she said.
“It's really challenging to see how this sport can survive on the North Shore. It’s not like you leave for four years and expect that once you come back, it’s full. It will just be devastating for lacrosse, actually.”
Charlie Carey is the North Shore News’ Indigenous and civic affairs reporter. This reporting beat is made possible by the Local Journalism Initiative.