A shortage for people who watch city waters is not just a concern for Barrie, but apparently it's a problem worldwide.
When the COVID-19 pandemic closed recreation centres and cancelled classes, one of the occupational victims was lifeguards.
Dan Bell, the city's director of recreation, tells BarrieToday that local rec centres and programs are facing the same problem due to the lack of lifeguards.
“The City of Barrie, like many other municipalities, is struggling with the North American-wide lifeguard shortage," he said. "Currently, the city has managed its aquatics program offerings with minimal impact to the community."
The Ontario Recreation Facilities Association (ORFA) website says that while the world tried to adjust to the challenges of COVID-19, many traditional activities were put on pause.
“Aquatic facilities were no different as many facilities lacked proper design for social distancing and inadequate ventilation," ORFA says. "Two things occurred: Unemployed lifeguards found other work and did not return to the facility once they reopened, and second, the 'pool' of lifeguard candidates dried up as there were no swimmers attending classes to strengthen their swimming skills and be encouraged to consider lifeguarding as employment.
ORFA says becoming a lifeguard requires "commitment at many levels to obtain certification and there is not a fast track to success. Filling this gap can only be accomplished in time."
With the several spots the city needs lifeguards, Bell said there is a search for more staff for people looking to apply.
“Barrie operates pools within each of the three main recreation centres, two lifeguarded beaches during July and August, and two other sites where lifeguards support aquatic supervision during summer camp programming,” he said. “The city is looking to hire more lifeguards to accommodate the growing community demand and interest in aquatic program opportunities.”
Allandale Recreation Centre, East Bayfield Community Centre and Peggy Hill Team Community Centre are the three city-run facilities with public pools, while Centennial Beach and Johnson’s Beach are guarded starting at the end of June.
Bell also highlighted the importance of water-based activities in Barrie and how popular they are.
“The city recognizes the importance of its aquatic programs and that learning to swim is an important life skill," he said. "Aquatic programs including swim lessons, aqua-fit and drop-in swims are among the most popular activities within our recreation centres."
And while programs may be impacted by staff availability, Bell says adjustments to class schedules will be made, if necessary, to maintain a safe environment with as little impact to participants as possible.
The city offers registered programs and drop-in activities in pools throughout the year.
Current aquatic program opportunities can be found here.