Port Hardy council listened to a delegation from pickleball players Ella Breikreitz, Shari Ogren, and Elaine Cadwallader. (screenshot from Port Hardy council live stream video)

Port Hardy council listened to a delegation from pickleball players Ella Breikreitz, Shari Ogren, and Elaine Cadwallader. (screenshot from Port Hardy council live stream video)

Numerous complaints causes district to remove one pickleball court from Civic Centre

‘We’re beginning to feel like the Lions people hate us and we’re not sure why’

The sport of pickleball has caused controversy in the District of Port Hardy, creating a ripple effect that has led to broader discussions on how the local Lions Club runs the district’s Civic Centre.

Port Hardy pickleball players met with council at their regular meeting on March 10 to request for one of their two courts at the Civic Centre to be reinstated after it was recently taken away from them.

Ella Breikreitz read her letter to council aloud, stating they want two courts available on Mondays and Wednesdays from 1:00 p.m. to 4:30 p.m. and from 7:00 p.m. to 9:00 p.m.

On Fridays the group requested usage from 1:00 p.m. to 4:30 p.m. when possible.

“For safety sake, we would appreciate having the tables and chairs be stored in their designated areas and floors maintained to avoid casualties,” she stated, also noting the Island Copper room in the Civic Centre is “the only facility in Port Hardy that has floors and lighting that are NOT detrimental to our Senior players.”

Port Hardy Mayor Dennis Dugas reminded the players after Breikreitz finished reading the letter that they wouldn’t be getting any answers from council tonight, as council’s procedure is to just listen and then district staff will get back to them at a later date.

“There were some issues that happened and there were reasons why we went back to one court, so what we have to do now is talk about how do we reinstate that, what are the pros and the cons, and how we can move forward,” noted Dugas, who added they are currently talking about moving the pickleball players to a local school gymnasium, the Don Cruickshank Memorial Arena, or the old Robert Scott school facility.

Breikzeitz stated again that the only floor that would work for the senior players is in the Island Copper Room in the Civic Centre.

Dugas thanked her for her input and then asked council if they had any questions.

“A few quick questions and then a comment,” said Coun. Fred Robertson. “How many members do you have?”

“Membership has dropped off radically since we’ve only had the one court to use because people do not want to sit and watch others play,” stated Breikreitz.

“At the height how many members did you have?” asked Robertson.

“12 a night,” confirmed Breikreitz.

“I think Dennis outlined it quite well, there is a history here,” noted Robertson. “We understand that, and there’s some different things at play here.”

Breikreitz asked if council would be willing to talk about the issues between the two clubs at some point. Robertson stated he was unsure if council would be willing to talk about it again, but did add they were always welcome to talk to the Parks and Recreation committee anytime they wanted.

“That didn’t turn out too well for us last time,” noted Breikreitz, referencing past discussions with the committee.

Shari Ogren then stated they have roughly 50 different people who signed a form stating they are interested in playing the sport in town.

“You are aware there is a contract with the lions, the lions are the managers of the Civic Centre, have you talked to the lions?” asked Coun. Pat Corbett-Labatt. “Because that’s where the issue came from, some of the lions’ equipment was wrecked from the pickleball. The lions are the managers of the centre, so you can come to us but you have to talk to them, too.”

“You’re the first one who’s actually said that to us, that we needed to speak to the lions,” said Elaine Cadwallader, noting she had previously written a letter to the club about the issue. She also stated she wasn’t aware of any Lions Club equipment being broken.

“There’s only been three times we’ve played where there hasn’t been tables and chairs in our area where we want to play,” added Breikreitz.

Corbett-Labatt responded by saying that the two courts ultimately didn’t work out at the Civic Centre, and that “perhaps we can discuss this more at the recreation committee.”

Robertson said the committee has always been willing to work with the two groups and he noted that is still the case.

“We’re beginning to feel like the lions people hate us and we’re not sure why,” said Breikreitz. “We’re not saying anything against them, we just need to have the tables and chairs put away… we only have a net, we don’t have a lot of equipment, and we don’t use a lot of heat because we work up a sweat… we’re nice people that want some exercise and a place to play, and we keep getting… disrespect every time we go in there and nothing has changed… we don’t want enemies, we just want to play pickleball.”

Coun. Janet Dorward wanted to know who the organizers behind the pickleball program are, as they are not an incorporated society.

“We started as part of the recreation centre, and we’re still under the rec centre,” confirmed Cadwallader, who added that Port Hardy local Dan Stewart is the main organizer.

Dugas thanked the group for coming to speak and confirmed that council will not forget about the issue and will be getting back to them in the future.

Coun. John Tidbury, who is a Lions Club member and also holds the janitorial contract for cleaning the Civic Centre, did not excuse himself from the meeting despite there being a potential conflict of interest, instead choosing to sit silently during the entire presentation and the discussion that was held afterwards.

After reviewing the video of the council meeting, the North Island Gazette contacted Dugas for more information about the issues between the two groups.

Dugas stated they are going to have district staff talk to the pickleball players about sitting down and having a discussion with the Lions Club, stating the whole thing is basically “an operational issue.”

While the district owns the Civic Centre, the Lions Club are the managers of the property. Dugas confirmed council generally stays out of their way and lets them manage the property the way that they see fit.

“There were some chairs that got moved around and something got damaged, and that’s how they lost their second court,” added Dugas about the broken equipment incident. He then noted the pickleball group is still going to be using one-half of the facility, “and that’s not going to change — we know they want the use of the full facility, so we have to figure that out.”

Robertson, who is the head of the Parks and Recreation committee, agreed with Dugas that there are no plans to move pickleball from the Civic Centre, and noted any broken equipment issues are “beyond the scope of the Parks and Recreation committee, that would be an admistrative issue.”

As for Tidbury potentially breaching the conflict of interest protocol, Chief Administrative Officer Allison McCarrick stated via email that staff has “discussed the matter with Councillor Tidbury and as per the Community Charter it is up to the individual Councillor to declare they are in conflict and remove themselves from the meeting if they feel they are.”

The North Island Gazette reached out to the Lions Club President Lynn Davey for comment on the issues at hand, and she confirmed the pickleball group caused roughly $200 worth of damage to lions’ equipment and never paid them back for it (she stated the district reimbursed them for the damage). She also pointed out the group barricaded emergency exits and left them blocked, which is a major safety violation.

Davey added when they showed district staff the mess the group had created, they were the ones who made the decision to remove the group’s second court, not the Lions Club.

“If they want to have the second court back they have to deal with us,” added Davey, who was adament the pickleball group is just out to try and cause trouble for the lions.

Quick facts about the Civic Centre and the Lions Club, courtesy of district staff

* The Civic Centre officially opened in Port Hardy in 2000;

* The Lions Club has been managing the property since it opened;

* District staff confirmed they have no documentation stating the Lions Club ever paid any money towards the building of the Civic Centre; and

* The management contract for the Civic Centre has never been put out for an expression of interest in the entire 20 years the building has been open to the public.

City Council