By Kieran Heffernan
The RA Centre is trying to shed the reputation it gained back when it was a recreation club exclusively for federal public servants, and show that it’s keeping up with the times and the needs of its community.
“I often say, we’re not just your grandfather’s RA anymore, we’re the whole family’s RA,” said the centre’s CEO Tosha Rhodenizer. “[People] think that we’re kind of an older demographic, and service a very narrow demographic. In fact, we’re expanding that, and have been for the past several years.”
That expansion has taken shape literally in the form of plans for a 200,000 square foot facility, called the Canadian Sport for Life & Rehabilitation Centre. Some of its main goals will be to encourage people of all ages and abilities to participate in sport and promote the integration of health and sport.
“We’re not just talking about physio and massage therapy,” Rhodenizer said. “We’re going to be talking about cardiac rehab, we’re going to be talking about pre/post joint replacement. Activities and healthcare provision that is complementary to evening and weekend sport and rec activity that happens.”
The architecture itself will be designed to improve, maintain, or slow the decline of physical literacy of its users, as well as promote socialization.
“[The design will] ensure that there are multiple areas for people to interact with each other, to connect with each other, recognizing the social fabric and experience of sport is essential,” Rhodenizer explained. “Lots of little nooks and crannies, lots of places to just be.”
More funding is still needed for this new facility, but once that has been secured, Rhodenizer estimates that about a year of planning will be needed, followed by 18 months of construction.
The Canadian Sport for Life & Rehabilitation Centre makes up Phase 2 of the RA’s long-term revitalization plan. Phase 1 consisted of the creation of the House of Sport, which houses the offices of almost forty sport organizations, including Hockey Canada and the Ottawa Sport Council.
The completion of Phase 2 is still a ways away, but as early as October some other facility changes will open. The RA announced in early June that the centre would no longer be hosting hockey programs. The hockey arena will be instead turned into a curling rink, and the former curling space converted to year-round pickleball courts. The goal for both these changes is to fill gaps within the Ottawa sports community.
“It is our intent to complement other organizations, not to compete against them,” Rhodenizer said, explaining, for example, that there is a need for mid-market curling facilities – many others in Ottawa are either clubs that tend to mostly target seniors (which is what the RA formerly housed) or high-level arenas such as the Canadian Tire Centre or TD Place. Soon, the RA will be able to host a much wider variety of curling programs such as youth, para and stick-curling.
Elaine Brimicombe, who has been a member of the RA’s curling club for about 30 years and is also chair of Ontario Curling Association, is particularly excited about what the new curling centre means.
“I was really thrilled that they’re taking this almost a leap of faith to show that they are 110% committed to curling,” she said.
The updated facility will be able to function as more than just a local community club.
“We’ll be able to use some of the downtime that we might traditionally have on a weekend to host a couple more events at the RA, because the new curling facility is just a lot more accommodating to having something like live streaming of a competition,” Brimicombe explained.
The centre is scheduled to open in late October, but construction will continue beyond then.
“The first year is focused on the on-ice experience. The stadium ice will be in, it’ll be that Brier-type quality. But the wraparound services, the things like lounges, enhanced changing facilities, the food services, those will be a work in progress over the next two to three years,” said Kelly Shaw-Swettenham, the RA’s director of recreation, sport and fitness services.
Making the decision to discontinue hockey programs at the RA was difficult, Rhodenizer said.
“We’ve had a number of our members that have been playing hockey since the hockey arena was built in 1978,” she noted, adding that many of the staff working with the leagues, rentals, and officiating had also been with the RA for decades. But ultimately, it was too difficult to break even in a facility with only a single ice pad; most hockey arenas today are multi-pad, Rhodenizer highlighted. The RA is instead pivoting their focus to another sport. Pickleball has been called the fastest-growing sport in Canada, but Ottawa currently has no year-round courts. The RA’s new facility will allow for many more participants, as well as more programs for different ages and abilities including junior, high performance, para and hybrid standing and wheelchair programs.
“Drop-in play at community centres is oversubscribed in the daytime with long lineups and capacity issues. So the RA will be an option now, as well as a way for youth and para athletes to play. This is a welcome development,” said Lynn Campbell, vice-president of communications at the Ottawa Pickleball Association.
Pickleball at the RA used to be held on the badminton courts. Their new facility is set to open in mid-October.
Shaw-Swettenham reiterates that all the changes coming the RA, long and short term, have the same goals in mind.
“Recreation, and being active, and socialization, and supportive communities, and inclusivity – anything new, any new facilities, any expansion, they really need to speak to those pieces.”