Every man, woman and child should feel a great loss for the Town of McLennan and its difficult decision to keep the H.W. Fish arena closed for another year.
And perhaps forever.
Declining usage [only eight hours per week in 2019] and increasing operation deficits amounting to $137,000 prompted council to close the arena at the end of the 2019 season.
Now, council is considering listing the arena for sale.
Oh, for the days when the “Fish Tank” rocked when the Lakeland Eagles were flying high! As Councillor Sue Delaurier says, the Eagles were good for the town economically not only as arena users but for the money fans poured into local businesses. The team did generate revenue for council and some of its businesses.
Councillor Terry Calliou is not wrong when he says closing an arena is like “ripping the heart out of the community.”
However, the financial reality has set it. By closing the arena, the Town saved $137,000 and was able to lower taxes in 2020.
Small towns need not be preached the importance of their arenas. They are the hub of the community. Each community must decide how much they are willing to subsidize recreation, which never makes money, whether it be an arena, baseball diamonds and that monster eating money of all facilities, an indoor pool. In the end, it comes down to the willingness of each community to decide how much they will spend.
The decision on the H.W. Fish arena is not unlike small villages deciding whether or not to throw in the towel and disincorporate. Years ago, Village of Kinuso residents faced the hard reality. This newspaper covered the public meeting and residents decided they would pay more to keep their Village status. Years later, as increasing financial difficulty set it, they disincorporated and joined the then M.D. of Big Lakes.
It had to be a gut-wrenching decision for council to make.
No politician wants to deprive the public of a service but no one wants to pay sky-high taxes either. The sight of an empty Fish arena was the final straw. It is one thing to operate a facility and lose money when it is well-used, but when it’s not being used the game changes entirely. A paltry eight hours a week was surely not going to keep the Fish arena open.
McLennan town council will now go to the people to ask for direction, similar to how the Village of Kinuso handled disincorporation.
In the end, the question is really very simple: do McLennan residents want to pay higher taxes to keep the H.W. Fish arena open, or will they come up with some magic formula to increase usage and lower the operational deficit?
The decision will be in the hands of the people, as it should be.