Amherst’s no-fee ice project is continuing to garner attention and kudos.
The project, first introduced in August 2016, was recognized by Sport Nova Scotia with its Support4Sport Makes A Difference Award during its awards gala in Halifax on June 1.
“Rewards and recognition are not why you get involved in a program, but it’s nice to see the program getting recognized nationally by Skate Canada and provincially by Skate Nova Scotia,” Amherst’s recreation director Bill Schurman said June 3. “It’s a unique program, whereby through the support of the mayor and council and the administration of the municipality we have waived ice time fees for minor hockey, figure skating, tournaments and all skating for people of all ages.”
When the project was first announced, the pilot project was believed to be the first of its kind in Nova Scotia. The town hoped the project would halt what was a steady decline in stadium usage while helping improve the health and well-being of the community’s young people through increased physical fitness.
The town was nominated by Skate Canada Nova Scotia Section.
It’s something researchers from Dalhousie University said was met in its report to council in 2017, when the program was renewed for a second year. This past year, the 2018-19 season, was the third year and Schurman said council has included the program in its budget for a fourth, in 2019-20.
Schurman said both the Cumberland County Minor Hockey Association and the Amherst Skating Club saw increased registration and financial savings from the program and it benefitted residents not only from Amherst, but also from the Municipality of Cumberland.
“The program fits a lot of our goals. We want to become the most active and healthy community in Nova Scotia, so you have to get people moving,” said Schurman. “This program does that. We also need to have an inclusive and accessible environment and reducing barriers by reducing fees is essential and we need to connect people. Obviously, there are more people using the stadium and it brings about a sense of belonging.”
He said the town appreciates the support of Communities Culture and Heritage that helped fund the Dalhousie study into the effectiveness of the program, while Public Health was also involved.
“We had a lot of support in trying to understand what this program provided to the community and then, in turn, other communities might have an interest in learning more about it,” he said, adding the mayor and council deserve credit for thinking outside the box when it came to stadium usage. “Like any new program there was lots of learning, but from a pure lens of what can we do to support the community from an active living-recreation perspective waiving the ice fees has been very well received. At the end of the day, more people are using the stadium than before and that’s what we’re trying to continue to do.”
Schurman said the first year’s survey found 78 per cent of respondents saying it was a good use of taxpayers’ money while in the second year it rose to 88 per cent.
He said communities, big and small, have asked about it as have provincial and national organizations like Hockey Canada and Skate Canada.
Peter McCracken, the regional manager of Communities, Culture and Heritage, said the town is deserving of recognition from Sport Nova Scotia.
“It’s an innovative way of looking how rural communities are using arenas. The traditional model is user-pay. This flips the model upside down and creates a model where the arena is more accessible and by extension people and families have more opportunities to be active,” he said.
While it may not work in every community-owned arena, it’s an example that can demonstrate a community’s financial commitment to bring about better health. He said it’s something that can be used in other facilities, adding there have been similar pilot projects in the past to remove access fees to schools.
The town was nominated by Skate Canada’s Nova Scotia section.
“The no-fee ice is an amazing initiative,” Jill Knowles, executive director of Skate Canada Nova Scotia, said. “So many children have benefitted from that and it’s something that deserves to be recognized. We want youth to be more active and Amherst is putting its money where its mouth is. It’s something more communities could do and it will be interesting to see if more communities follow Amherst’s example.”
Skate Canada benefitted from the program over Christmas 2017, hosting a skating workshop, while this past Christmas members of the Canada Games team gathered in Amherst for a pre-Games workshop before heading to Red Deer, Alta.
She said Skate Canada Nova Scotia has always enjoyed hosting events in Amherst and is coming back in February 2020 to host the provincials.