Two of Canada’s most popular sports, curling and skating, are being threatened by rising electricity costs in Ontario, as some local arenas and curling rinks struggle to keep their doors open in the face of rising hydro bills.
Stephen Chenier, executive director of the Ontario Curling Association, says if clubs can’t get a handle on increasing bills soon, many could be forced to close their doors for good.
“We have 197 members currently and I would hazard a guess that easily between 10 and 20 per cent of our clubs are at that threshold point in the next couple of years,” Chenier said. “It used to cost between $15,000 and $18,000 a year for energy costs to operate your facility, now you’re anywhere between $30,000 and $45,000.”
Chenier says increasing costs have placed local curling clubs in the difficult position of having to choose between increasing membership fees, which reduces the number of curlers, or cancel important renovation projects that could reduce energy costs.
“Unfortunately, if we don’t find some way to get capital funds into changing the upgrades and allowing people to invest in their clubs to do it, I’m afraid we’re going to start losing curling clubs.”
For many curling associations, such as the Huntsville Curling Club from Huntsville, Ont. the impact of skyrocketing energy bills has left them feeling helpless.
“Hydro costs are definitely rising. At our club one third of an individual’s membership fee goes to energy costs,” said Eric Spinks, a curler and former board member of the Huntsville Curling Club. “What that does is it really handcuffs us with our capital funding, with our capital funds, and it makes it more difficult for us to operate.”
Spinks says the club is definitely losing members as costs go up and as people find cheaper things do. He fears that if this trend continues, particularly in rural parts of the province, recreational curling could a thing of the past.
“As we see our membership drop, we certainly don’t want to see our sport disappear,” Spinks said. “We came close to that one time. We were fortunate to apply for a grant and to get a grant to help us continue operating.”
Meanwhile, Ian Hartford, vice president of the Northumberland Curling Club from Cobourg, Ont., says changes to the way the club receives funding from the local municipality have put his club within five years of shutting down.
While the club used to pay a flat fee to the municipality for renting their facility, which included the cost of hydro, they’re now responsible for covering all utility costs – the impact of which Hartford says the club did not fully anticipate.
“This year our predicted cost for electrical use is going to be about $75,000,” Hartford said. “For a 350 membership club, that’s about $250 per member – which is almost half of our cost for membership going to our electrical costs.”
Steve McFadden, Mayor of the Township of Cavan-Monaghan, says rising energy costs in his community have pushed residents and local businesses to the brink. He feels that if the government doesn’t do something soon to reduce the burden on small towns and rural communities, local arenas around Ontario could soon be shuttered once and for all.
“It’s beyond unaffordable,” said McFadden, describing the cost of operating the Millbrook community arena. “There’s only so much money to go around at the end of the day. When people are struggling to meet their needs for food and electricity … they’re not gonna have money for the additional things such as the curling rink or an ice rink.”
McFadden says that over the past few months, electricity bills for the Millbrook arena alone have reached as high as $12,000. He questions the decision making that led to such dramatic increases in costs and is asking the government to do more to assist rural communities.
“It’s about quality of life,” McFadden said. “What kind of a society we have. We have to choose between electricity and food, or electricity and medicine or being able to afford your own home. I mean, that’s called quality of life that we become used to.”
McFadden and a delegation of mayors from across Ontario met with Energy Minister Glenn Thibeault Monday in Toronto to discuss rising energy costs at the annual meeting of the Rural Ontario Municipalities Association.
Thibeault was unavailable for comment immediately following the meeting.
WATCH: With Hydro costs rising in rural Ontario, some curling clubs and ice rinks are facing possible closure. As Sean O’Shea reports, hydro costs now account for as much as half of the membership fees in some cases.
– Brian Hill Global News