This story has been updated since it was originally posted to include reaction from additional user groups and community members.
Sports and recreation groups are celebrating the unexpected extension to the life of the Harry Jerome Community Recreation Centre.
The City of North Vancouver announced Wednesday (Nov. 24) that the centre would not close in early 2022, as expected, because council had terminated the city's lease of the land to developer Darwin Properties following a dispute over terms of the contract.
It means swimmers, hockey players, gymnasts and lacrosse players will be able to stay until the new Harry Jerome is finished in 2025. Many of those groups had been protesting and petitioning the city to keep the facility open.
North Shore Indians lacrosse governor Wilson Williams said his team can now “exhale,” knowing their sport still has a future on the North Shore.
“It’s such great news and such a big relief,” he said. “Lacrosse is going to be alive and well.”
While North Vancouver Recreation and Culture was attempting to fit some of Harry Jerome’s sports groups and programs into other rec facilities, there was nothing available for lacrosse.
Williams credits both the city and the developer, saying they are both members of the community who were invested in the outcome.
“I have nothing but praise for everybody, especially the city and Darwin [Properties] and all the user groups and community, for all the work they put into getting us where we are,” he said. “It means that the community is just going to flourish and continue. Especially coming out of COVID-19, people will still have access to their livelihood, whether it's a hobby or their competitive sport, or just being out there doing programs and socializing … and I think that's what it's all about.”
Williams said that with the stability the extension of Harry Jerome brings, the Indians are looking to expand their teams and revitalize the game even further.
“We want to develop a really clear and engaging program about the Creator’s game of lacrosse and the medicine game,” he said.
The City of North Vancouver and Darwin Properties are characterizing the dispute that resulted in Harry Jerome’s extension in different ways. According to the city, Darwin attempted to renegotiate the lease at the last minute and failed to hand over a deposit. Darwin president Oliver Webbe told the North Shore News the dispute was over his desire to keep Harry Jerome open.
Most user groups, though, are not too busy celebrating to look a gift horse in the mouth.
“Whatever it is, at the end of the day, it's going to remain open until the new one is built,” said Lawrence Smyth, president of the North Vancouver Minor Hockey Association. “We’re doing a lot of happy dances. I’ll tell you that.”
The minor hockey association’s 45 teams and 700 players were still working out how to keep operations going with one of their five rinks out of service.
Vivian Cheng, an organizer of the Keep Harry Jerome Open petition and Oct. 30 protest that drew out 150 or so facility users, welcomed the reversal.
"It is unbelievable, in the best way possible, how events unfolded. We may never know the whole truth of why and how this happened. But what I know is that beautiful teamwork took place and then a miracle happened," she said. "It is wonderful that all these user groups will continue to have their home at Harry Jerome. And it is especially a relief to know that individuals users, particularly our seniors, will continue to have access to this facility to stay healthy."
Eddie Simard, president of the Chena Swim Club, said his group was looking into “not great options” for pool time off of the North Shore.
“We're pretty ecstatic. It’s good for our community, amateur sport in general, and for us to keep our swim program going. We’ve been scrambling,” he said. “This is very, very helpful for our program.”
Flicka Gymnastics has signed an agreement with the city to move the private club to the Mickey McDougall Community Recreation Centre. The extension will make that process much easier, said Sue Whittred, co-president.
“This is great news. We're happy to stay at Harry Jerome for the additional few years,” she said. “It gives us more time to plan our move and hopefully raise some funding to do some renovations on the building.”
Matt Samson, general manager and coach of the Pacific Junior Hockey League’s North Vancouver Wolf Pack, said they were not excited about moving their team to Karen Magnussen Community Recreation Centre, where they would not have a dressing room, office or storage.
“In terms of the day-to-day operations of a junior hockey club, home games, stuff like that, it's huge. I'm so happy to hear this,” he said. “Harry Jerome feels like our home. We’ve got a place there. To be bouncing around … it’s just not the same.”
Samson added he was proud of the way all of the Harry Jerome groups came together in support of one another.
“I think it just says a lot about the community,” he said.
Meanwhile, one rec centre user is attributing the extension to a large cross-section of people who spoke up.
“Everyone in the community, the people, the groups, everyone worked really hard,” said Sid Mirhashemy. “This was really, in my opinion, fantastic teamwork.”
Sharing the news with others, Mirhashemy said everyone was happy to hear about the extension.
“This morning, I went to Delbrook [Community Centre], I gave the good news to the people, and everyone was excited. I went to Harry Jerome as well. All the senior people, they are very excited, because quite frankly, most of these seniors, they can’t go from one place to another,” he said.