User groups fear for Blyth centre's future amid budget discussions
BY SCOTT STEPHENSON
Sports teams, cultural associations, and community groups in North Huron are on edge after a Jan. 12 budget meeting proposal recommended possible cuts to recreation.
A series of recommendations prepared by North Huron Chief Administrative Officer Dwayne Evans included several options for reducing expenditures, such as closing the Blyth and District Community Centre from April 1 to Aug. 31; seeking a third party to be responsible for the Blyth Campground and reducing the Blyth Festival’s marketing grant from $15,000 to $10,000 and discontinuing Municipal Civic Night. Reeve Paul Heffer, in addition, asked for a review of the township’s ability to support two community centres with its population, leading to concern for many for the future of the Blyth centre.
Gord Baxter, Treasurer of the Barn Dance Historical Society, characterizes the possible cuts as, “very, very concerning.” The Barn Dance Historical Society is busy planning a 25th annual celebration to be held at the Blyth arena, May 26-28, 2023, with preparations well underway. This would mark the first time since the pandemic began that the Barn Dance Historical Society’s event would return to a live, in-person format. Baxter worries that a potential summertime arena closure would force the event’s cancellation and deny the community a traditional fundraising opportunity.
Judy Sloan, Past-President of the Huron Pioneer Thresher and Hobby Association, is taking a “wait and see” approach, but acknowledges that any decoupling of the township and the Blyth Campground would be chaotic. The organization uses municipal facilities for meetings year-round and owns several buildings on the campground. Sloan is in “total shock” about the consideration of a review that could result in the closure of the Blyth arena. “It’s huge [for the community]; it’s needed. We’re so glad to see it being used.”
News of possible recreation funding cuts arrive as the Blyth Festival prepares for its first full season since 2019. Festival General Manager Rachael King understands that council has hard decisions to make, but views cutting services to municipal buildings associated with the Festival as an unfortunate and complicated obstacle. In 2021, the Festival constructed an open-air, permanent venue located at the campground in Blyth, known as the Harvest Stage, to offer Festival attendees an outdoor alternative for live theatre during the pandemic and beyond. The Harvest Stage utilizes municipal infrastructure like parking and restrooms to accommodate the many thousands of tourists who pass through the community throughout the Festival season. King also lamented the discontinuation of Municipal Civic Night, a networking event to promote the Festival to neighbouring jurisdictions, but says other strategies are being prepared to connect with adjacent municipalities throughout Huron County.
Local sports teams and organizations, already challenged to find ice-time, are fearful that cuts to the recreation budget, a possible permanent arena closure, or splitting ice time with other municipalities will limit their respective teams’ ability to succeed. Shane Taylor, President of the Huron Heat Female Hockey Association, says, “a reduction in the amount of ice time we have at the Blyth arena in the future would negatively impact our hockey program.” Manny Taylor, Co-President of Blyth Junior Broomball, believes it is important to give kids a place to play and that taking away programs from youth sends the wrong message. Brett Fischer, President of the Blyth Brussels Minor Hockey Association, is “extremely concerned if [council is] considering a permanent closure of the Blyth arena. There are several negative effects closing the arena would have on the community.”
John Stewart, long-time member of the Blyth Lions Club, hopes that a potential summertime arena closure wouldn’t prevent larger groups and organizations, like the Barn Dance Historical Society and the Huron Pioneer Thresher and Hobby Association, from being able to use the facilities. He understands the present economic pressure facing the township, but believes a permanent closure of the Blyth arena would result in further economic loss for the community and negatively impact the physical and mental health of people of all ages.
Council’s next budget meeting, originally scheduled for Jan. 27, 2023, has been postponed, and a new date has not yet been determined.