An artist’s rendering shows plans for a new aquatic centre in Thompson that will replace the Norplex Pool, which was permanently shut down in February of 2019. Both the province and the federal government announced millions in funding for the project on Monday. HandoutDave Baxter, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

Original Published 14:44 May 10, 2022

By Dave Baxter, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

The mayor of Thompson says the northern community got a much-needed boost this week when the province and the federal government both announced millions in funding for a brand new public pool that she said will be a huge asset for Thompson and for the youth in the city and in the surrounding areas.

“This is absolutely huge for us,” Thompson Mayor Colleen Smook said on Tuesday, one day after provincial Labour Minister Reg Helwer and federal Minister of Northern Affairs Dan Vandal announced the province and the feds will put up $5 million and $6 million respectively for the construction of a brand new $15 million aquatic centre in Thompson.

Smook said the city will put up the remaining $4 million for the project that will now bring a public pool back to the remote northern city, located more than 750 kilometres north of Winnipeg, for the first time in more than three years.

The city’s former Norplex Pool was shut down in February of 2019 after city council was told it would cost at least $7 million just to keep that facility safe and functional, and that it was no longer safe to use in its current state.

Smook said the announcement of the new pool is significant, because it will create more recreational opportunities for northern Manitoba residents, and for youth in northern Manitoba who are often looking for things to do during the long and cold winter months.

“To not have a pool for as long as we did was very disheartening,” Smook said. “A pool is an integral part of kids’ lives.

“Kids need swimming lessons, and everyone needs things to do in the winter when it’s too cold to be outside, so this will be good for the physical and mental health of the young people, and for so many people out here.”

Smook added she is also excited about the opportunities that the new facility will create for Indigenous youth who live in Thompson, and in the several First Nations communities that surround the city.

“This is big for the Indigenous youth out here,” she said “We used to have First Nations youth bused in for the day to use the pool all the time, and it was great for them.

“Now we can start to do things like that again, so the benefits will go well beyond the city.”

And according to Smook, when governments make funding commitments for projects in Thompson, the benefits often spread well beyond the city limits.

“The census says we are a community of 13,000, but I always say that is deceiving, because we have always acted as the hub for the north, so we see ourselves as a community that provides services to more than 50,000 people in northern Manitoba,” she said.

“This will be something that will benefit the entire region, and I think more and more the province and the federal government are starting to understand the importance of investing in the north, and we will keep pushing and advocating for those investments.”

This item reprinted with permission from Winnipeg Sun, Winnipeg, Manitoba