EASTERN SHORE – Prior to March Break 2020, Halifax Regional Municipal (HRM) recreation programs and services were well received by the residents of the Eastern Shore. Participation numbers were up; during the fall and winter months there were anywhere between 15 and 25 participants multiple times per week attending the open gym programs. Then COVID happened. Unfortunately, the department had to cancel programs and services due to the global pandemic.

Now, thanks to Nova Scotians being diligent in following government regulated health safety guidelines, fall programming is back. HRM Recreation Director for Sheet Harbour and area Jody Taker told The Journal, “We are hopeful that people will be excited to come back.”

The cutback in programming has impacted staffing at all locations with only full-time staff remaining.  All part-time and casual staff were laid off in March as a result of the sudden closure of facilities and abrupt end of programs and services.  Some of the remaining staff were encouraged to work from home, while others went to their place of work.

“Over the summer months we focused more on outdoor programming and events,” says Taker. “We were able to offer modified programs to children and families. We had to stop offering our seniors and youth bus trips. We will be offering these popular outings again once it is safe for us to do so.”

Despite the ongoing pandemic, the department continues to offer activities to residents of the Eastern Shore while being cognizant of the health safety guidelines. “We are moving forward with our fall programs and will soon begin planning for our winter programs. We will continue to follow public health guidelines and make adjustments as those guidelines change,” Taker said.

The recreation department plans programming ahead and the fall programs are scheduled to begin the week of October 19. Taker says programs continue to be offered at a variety of locations and facilities. “Each location has been selected based on the program type, expected number of participants and facility layout. We are adhering to all public health guidelines. It can be challenging at times, however, staff and participants are respectful of the rules and are adapting very well.”

The Seaside Fitness Centre, located in the Bluewater Building, has been closed for a period of time but the recreation department is working to get the fitness centre up and running again.

“A challenge we face is bringing the community together while trying to keep them apart via physical distancing. It is a big adjustment but we’re thankful for the cooperation of residents as we navigate these challenges together.”

Taker looks to working with others to combine activity efforts. “When you work in a rural setting it is necessary to always work closely with other groups and organizations. If not working directly together, supporting one another in some capacity is key,” Taker said. “We supported the Art Park Shingle project by offering an opportunity for people to come to our centre and paint shingles where all supplies were included. In the absence of Little League this summer, we worked with the Local Rockets Association to offer softball skills to children.”

The recreation department continues to research new activities to offer residents of the Shore. “We are always looking for ways to get our community engaged. If anyone has a specific skill or talent they are willing to share, we would love to hear from you,” Taker invites.

The department does not currently have access to the school gymnasium at Marine Drive Academy. They have had to scale back programming for the fall season but is offering opportunities for residents to complete first-aid and safe food handling training.

“We have partnered with the Friends of Taylor Head to help promote their upcoming hikes and birdwatching opportunities. There are family activity nights planned, line dancing, ballet and yoga. We will continue to add opportunities as interest grows while continuing to follow public health guidelines,” Taker says.

Janice Christie, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Guysborough Journal