Rhino's Ramblings - The Death of the Y

By Robert Thomas - Opinion\Commentary

It came as a shock to the community the news that after 114 years the YMCA of Moose Jaw was winding up its operations. 

The YMCA of Moose Jaw’s flagship Fairford Street location

The YMCA of Moose Jaw’s flagship Fairford Street location

There were a lot of questions to be asked about but the two main ones asked at the public meeting for members were Why? And was there anything which could be done to revive it and bring it back? 

Answering both of those questions seemed to be elusive and really it may come down to what you believe or should I say your philosophy in life.

There are two sides to a story they say but there is also two opinions to be had when it comes to the final closure of the YMCA of Moose Jaw.

There is one narrative the Y could have been saved if not for a group of proactive new board members wasting time and attempting to save the flagship Fairford Street location and another the Y was on borrowed time for years and decades and the new board members were blindsided by the stark reality they faced once on the board.

The thing with it though is the Y seemed trapped and throughout a crisis – which if you look at it extended back more than a few years according to the Y's internal confidential documents – in my own opinion did not or could not articulate to the community the true extent of the financial crisis. 

It was a crisis seemingly masked in the Y's public face which over the past decade was transitioning away from recreational activities and core values of building individuals through recreation and sport to one of child care. 

When many people thought of the Y they quit thinking about the core values of the Y but thought of it as the place where you dropped off the kids and then went on about your day. 

It just seemed the Y and it’s philosophy of character and community building just was not there any longer in the minds of many Moose Javians. The Y was just a place in Crescent Park we walked or drove by a couple of times a month.

We took it for granted some say led to the Y’s demise? Or did Y boards from way back make dire predictions about the Y's future and then really do nothing about altering the future they had predicted? Or is it a combination of the two?

It was a disconnect which in my opinion started long ago and it wasn’t just within the community at large but also within the Y itself. It seemed as Moose Jaw grew and society changed the Y in many people's minds lost relevance and the Y was lost on how to respond.

Trying to pinpoint the actual event which led to the Y's ultimate demise is impossible it really is a series of events over time which led to what was officially announced on Tuesday evening.

I can still vividly remember the great debate of a quarter century ago involving where the new indoor pool was going to be built and how that event split the community. 

It was if you want to look in retrospect just another controversy of two sides deeply entrenched in an issue. An issue which in the end may have been the start of when many people even thought about the Y at all.

As a kid in Moose Jaw when you thought about the Y you thought about the pool, you thought about the Nat or Natatorium. Both were synonymous with one another.

Moving the indoor pool to MacDonald Street from Crescent Park was really in many people's minds the last time they thought of the Y as tied to their lives.

It also was the start in what has accelerated in Moose Jaw as what has been described to me as the loss of community or should I say the feeling of one in Moose Jaw.

The cohesive nature which seemed to make us so proud to be here somehow died and the moving of the indoor pool was not just the start of the Y's demise but also one of the bell weather events which split the community.

There is no use in hiding the fact but if you go back a decade ago the Y was described by many as a “financial basketcase” and on the verge of collapse. 

The move into child care and guaranteed government cash was a life saver and in my opinion kept the Y afloat for at least a few years longer. 

Child care may fit into the philosophy of the YMCA but my thoughts are in many ways it was not done by the Y to extend a philosophy but was really about the financials. It came down to survival and the bottom line.

In my opinion it was teetering on irony as the Y started to shed paying members to the new and growing private gym craze the Y in turn moved into other areas at least partially to offset its losses elsewhere.

It was for me when I think about it not all about altruism but rather the bottom line. The drive for cashflow took away what the Y was ultimately all about.

There seems to be two schools of thought when it comes to the financial picture and ultimately the collapse at the YMCA of Moose Jaw.

One was the Y could have been saved so long as the Fairford street location was closed and the health and wellness centre (gym) was transferred to the former Sterling Fitness or the Co-op facility. The warnings the board issued at the special general meeting in June 2018 should have been heeded but they were not.

To help make this happen and sell it to the community the Y even hired a PR specialist, a shark, with a strategy and a plan to sell jt. There was even a strategy of what to tell the media if the move was leaked. 

The problem is in my opinion not only was the expensive PR plan trying to get out the Y's message it in many ways hid the entire truth to not only the membership but the general public at large.

A truth which the Y's confidential internal documents show the Y in serious trouble or a Y in financial crisis years before a group of proactive members decided to run on a platform dedicated to saving the Fairford Street location.

 In my opinion and you can take it any way you like but the true dire financial straights of the YMCA were not provided to its membership. When I say provided I am saying members were not told just how bad it was and in the end once they did it was too late. No groundswell of community support can save a lifeless corpse.

People can say this is all hindsight and second guessing but if you truthfully look at it objectively a better connection to its membership and the community years or even decades earlier may have seen a much different outcome. 

Below is one of those confidential documents from March 2017:

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Interestingly if you go back to the Y's reaction in June 2018 into the internal documents obtained by MJ Independent the Y dismissed this publication as irrelevant and “Facebook based” and there we were this last Tuesday evening the Y doing it once again.

It is what they call in the business discrediting the source or making the general public question the credibility of the information. Does it bother me? No, not in the least.

It sadly is something I have heard many times extending back to the days over 30 years ago when I worked my first full-time reporting gig.

The thing is the Y documents which were left in the old adage left in a brown manilla envelope under my cars windshield wiper show much more.

Documents they say do not lie. 

The extensive set of documents leaked would not have in my opinion saved the YMCA of Moose Jaw but they do paint a much different narrative which some in my opinion would not like to have out in the community. The thing is can you blame one single person, event or board for the demise of the YMCA of Moose Jaw? Or was it a combination of things which came together?

With that said the Y members and the community really need or should I say deserve to know the full truth. 

In my opinion, and yes this is hindsight after looking at the documents, if the true picture was articulated much earlier and not hidden in internal documents - where in the header was the word CONFIDENTIAL - in red there may have been hope for the Y. What would have happened if there was a groundswell of support for the Y in lets say 2012 when there was a boom on and extra money to be had?

This is just my opinion but in many ways this is Moose Jaw politics at its finest. You do not find out the truth about what is going on until it hits crisis stage and even then you seemingly do not get a full picture.

At the meeting there was more than a few people not only asking about saving the Y as it stands right now but also perhaps in the future bringing the Y back a few years down the road. 

This is not about finger pointing and who to blame but rather its all about answering the questions many Y members, many of them long term or generational, need and deserve to know so they can have closure.

But with that said if there is in the future a group working to resurrect the Y how do you do that and not do the same mistakes again or as they say history repeating itself? 

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