Future of Hay River Ski Club uncertain without government funding

The Hay River Ski Club will operate as usual this winter, but after that its fate is unclear.

The ski club has been operating since 2016 thanks to funding from the Legacy Retailer Grant Program, a five-year interim fund offered by the N.W.T. Department of Municipal and Community Affairs (MACA) after the ski club, and other non-profit organizations, were excluded from receiving funding from NWT Lotteries. 

Chuck Lirette, the club’s trails and facilities co-ordinator and long-time biathlon coach, said the ski club wasn’t aware that the program would expire after five years.

“There was no understanding on the board that this was meant to be an interim arrangement,” Lirette said. “It caught us completely by surprise.”

Lobbying the N.W.T. government

When the club was notified earlier this year that their funding stream was running dry, the town’s two MLAs began to lobby the government. After four months, Lirette said they’re now asking residents to email MACA Minister Shane Thompson to express support for the club.

“I don’t know if MACA realizes how important our club is to so many people in our community and how important it is to so many people across the North,” Lirette said.

As a volunteer-run organization, the ski club manages its own operations and isn’t able to fundraise the almost $34,000 it had been receiving from the government annually. 

MACA granted the club a one-time-only NGO Stabilization Fund of $33,655 in 2021-2022 and $16,827 in 2022-2023 to operate for another season. Lirette said this is what is allowing them to stay open this coming season. 

Government response

In response to the ski club’s request, MACA spokesperson Jay Boast said the department “does not provide core funding to any community-based sport organizations directly in any community in the Northwest Territories.” 

Boast told CBC News in an email that as a non-government organization, the ski club could apply for funding from a number of other MACA funding pots.

He suggested the Regional Youth Sports Event or Volunteer Organization Development funding, which are application-based rather than core funding. 

“The vast majority of sport organizations self-fund,” he said. “It is important that funding is approached consistently and with fiscal responsibility in mind across the N.W.T.”

The Hay River Figure Skating Club and the Hay River Hockey Association are two other groups who will no longer benefit from lottery revenues. Because those clubs operate out of a city-owned facility, Lirette said their members can be assured regular maintenance for their ice and building. 

‘A real loss’

If the ski club goes under Lirette said it would be a huge loss to Hay River and athletes around the North. 

He mentioned athletes like biathlete Brendan Green, who represented the country on the Olympic stage, and others from the territory who have competed on the national level, who relied on the club for their training.

Biathlon, skiing and snowshoeing are activities people in Hay River can take part in at the Hay River Ski Club. (Hay River Ski Club)

Having the Hay River Ski Club host events like the Arctic Winter Games allows athletes from across the territory to compete and be included in territorial sport. 

Having coached himself for many years, Lirette said that kids in biathlon develop critical thinking skills and problem solving.

He said “parent after parent,” has told him that by being involved in biathlon, they’re seeing their kids improve in school and make gains in all areas of their lives. 

By providing a place to ski, practice biathlon and snowshoe, Lirette said the club promotes healthy living and helps keep kids out of trouble. 

To lose the club, “would be a real loss to the community,” Lirette said. “A real loss to the North.”