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LETTER: YMCA needs to make bold move, retain Geneva Park

Letter writer calls for 'elightened, audacious thinking' to keep Geneva Park and 'its essential service' in the public realm
geneva park dock
A family enjoys a sunset on the dock at Geneva Park.

OrilliaMatters welcomes letters to the editor. This letter is in reference to the YMCA's decision to enter into a process to sell the Geneva Park property in Ramara Township. Send your letter to dave@orilliamatters.com
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I work out on The Plains of Abraham, in Quebec City, running stairs in the summer and cross-country skiing in the winter, because I am lucky enough to live next to this special place.

There are countless others from Quebec City and around the world doing the same, and this, in a most beautiful natural greenspace.

In the 19th century, the Plains of Abraham was a golf course for Canadian and British military officers. This “elite” few had sole access to this natural treasure. However, in 1908, the Canadian government had the keen foresight to develop the Plains of Abraham into the magnificent park that exists today, open for any, and to all.

So, by now you are asking: why are you talking about a park in Quebec City? The reason is simply that I know of such a place, near Orillia, another natural beauty with charm that equals that of the fabled Plains of Abraham.

I truly believe this place, Geneva Park, is an emerald gem. It is not simply a lifeless gem with superficial beauty, but rather a living, delicate gem that must be cared for to retain its charm.

It is also an altruistic gem; in that it has served the community for generation after generation. It has provided for waterfront and woodland access to some of the most deserving in society: Orillia’s children at summer day camp and physically- and intellectually-challenged groups such as The March of Dimes.

In addition, anyone from Orillia, and elsewhere, may visit Geneva Park for as long as they wish. Access to a such pristine greenspace is taken for granted by some, annoyance for others, and even a constraint to commercial development for others.

If you have not visited Geneva Park, you may not be aware of how truly this is a special place. Presque-isle, almost island, Geneva Park, has an unblemished three-kilometre shoreline and is shrouded by unspoiled woodland and wetland bog.

Destroying, whether in whole or in part, this innocent gentle space, would and could never be development, rather retrogression at its worst.

The spoiling of Geneva Park would be more than an insult to our youth, it would be one more casualty on a growing and very long list in the pilferage of their natural world.

An Orillia area resident, you are most probably aware that Geneva Park is being sold. If this beloved natural landmark is sold, which is hoc facto a natural heritage of Orillia and region, it must be done to further enhance area residents, as has been done for more than a hundred years.

When “enhance” I do not mean provide temporary jobs while the park’s environment is dismembered, to the material profit and future benefit of a few, as was the Plains of Abraham to the ennobled officers enjoying a game of golf.

If this were to happen, Geneva Park YMCA would be lost forever, the people of Orillia and region would be Juliet, and as such, forever state “Alas, poor Romeo, he is already dead!”

Geneva Park must not be such tragedy, but rather continue to provide shared access to greenspace for all, which will not be simply preserved, but protected forever.

By whom, this most lofty responsibility is held? In a name, the Simcoe-Muskoka YMCA. Several years ago, the Simcoe-Muskoka YMCA, embraced the opportunity to manage Geneva Park, as its care was released by The National YMCA to the more local YMCA managing group.

Following the transaction, and amid financial difficulty, only exasperated by the COVID crisis, there is much change, as one says, in the ball game, and not so rosy as were initial aspirations.

Here now, at the crossroads of Geneva Park’s, and in fact, the Simcoe-Muskoka’s story, a happy ending may nay be in sight for neither. Already lost, Orillia’s beloved Skid Watson YMCA, and this, forever, as was Romeo.

If not anything else, has the COVID crisis not taught us clearly the relevance of the YMCA values: body, mind, and spirit? The loss of the Skid Watson YMCA must entrench commitment to this, neither supercilious, nor assumptive quest, to save such a place as Geneva Park YMCA, and its essential service to the community.

Finally, I must, we must, gracefully, though directly, while relentlessly, address the decision makers at the Simcoe-Muskoka YMCA.

I am confident that, enlightened, audacious thinking is possible, by the management of the Simcoe-Muskoka YMCA. They are very able to exercise the same foresight displayed by William Thomson, proprietor, Longford Mills Lumber Company, in 1905, when he allowed, not for self-profit, but for the transition of the property on which stands Geneva Park YMCA, to the National YMCA.

This would preserve and protect the nature and mission of this special place for more than one hundred years. You, the management of the Simcoe-Muskoka YMCA, will be remembered for generations, as is Thomson, in the continued enhancement of the lives of the youth and others who will benefit from Geneva Park YMCA.

Good management sells off properties to assist the bottom line of struggling businesses. Great management has the foresight, takes the risks, and saves the cherished properties, and/or ensures their continuity, at whatever the cost, for future generations both within and without the organization.

This daring need not be direful and, as stated by Aristotle, fortune favours the bold.

Thomson had this foresight in 1905, as he loved Lake Couchiching and the enchanting land on which Geneva Park sits, and he aspired to ensure that YMCA values would define the enduring character of Geneva Park YMCA.

His determination assured the National YMCA would be its trusted custodian. The National YMCA further passed on this trust to the Simcoe-Muskoka YMCA. It is now you, Simcoe-Muskoka YMCA, to whom this trust is assigned, and I respectfully ask: are you good or great management?

Stephen Holloran
Quebec City

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