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LETTER: Ex-director speaks out on sale of Geneva Park

Geneva Park, for over 100 years, 'has been dedicated to helping people find, practise and work at making the world a better place for everyone,' laments letter writer
2021-01-21 YMCA Geneva Park
YMCA Geneva Park. Image supplied

OrilliaMatters welcomes letters to the editor ( The following letter, from a former executive director of Geneva Park, is in response to the sale of the Orillia YMCA and Geneva Park.
From the January, 2021 announcements by YMCA Simcoe/Muskoka that the Orillia YMCA had been sold and the sale of YMCA Geneva Park was planned, I have been a strident voice urging YSM to determine the best way forward through consultation and collaboration with its members.

I have shared over 100 emails with people and groups, trying to offer positive ideas toward the best possible resolution of complex challenges — with good intent but to no apparent effect.

Notwithstanding the hopes and wishes of its members and stakeholders, the new reality is that the Orillia Y and YMCA Geneva Park have both been sold. We are now challenged to ask ourselves if and how the communities that made the Orillia Y and Geneva Park so special can continue to be a positive force for the development of people and communities into the future.

We must keep learning and practising how to get along optimally with each other. We need spaces, like Geneva Park, where people who are imbued with that commitment, will help that happen.

My Dad took me up to the Orillia Y on my ninth birthday. It was the hungry 30's, and we could not afford the $2 cost of a membership. The fabled Skid Watson, who was the Y’s General Secretary at that time, said, "That's no problem! You can set up pins in the bowling alley (at a penny a line) to earn your membership!” I enjoyed that courtesy each year till I was in high school, when I could earn $2 much more quickly.

In my second year, Skid invited me into the YMCA’s Leadership Training Program which led me, over time, into a 40-year career in the YMCA, with my final staff position being 14 years as Executive Director of Geneva Park. By the way, during those 14 years, Geneva Park balanced its budget every year, paid an administration assessment to YMCA Canada, maintained and added new facilities, and established an account for repairs, replacement, and additions. Geneva Park was financially viable.

I have continued, since retirement, as a volunteer and donor, and lately as a very mouthy participant in the struggle to keep Geneva Park alive in its mission of developing people and a sense of community.

During this time, I have come to realize that it is not the YMCA’s reputation, nor the YMCA sign on the gate at Geneva Park, that has commanded my loyalty and commitment over my lifetime. It is the realization that the quality of life itself is entirely dependent on people learning to get along together. What has been sold is a property that, for over 100 years, has been dedicated to helping people find, practise and work at making the world a better place - for EVERYONE!

That purposeful community spirit is what a huge band of people built at Geneva Park over its long history. That spirit is surely what we want to preserve in our little corner of the world!

Geneva Park has been sold. But its community may still potentially prosper there under the stewardship of the Park’s new owner, Clayton Smith. There is thus an opportunity to forge new relationships and build an expanded community of hope and purpose. Perhaps a fantastic new beginning may yet unfold right here in

Russ Davey