Energy high as new gym nears completion

Akiqnuk First Nation to open Columbia Lake Recreation Centre to Valley community

The Columbia Lake Recreation Centre is a vast, impressive structure located by the Akisqnuk band office off Hwy 93/95.

The east-facing front door (to face the rising sun), opens to a foyer which will eventually include a donor wall as well as an Akisqnuk Athletes Wall of Fame. There is a kitchen available for rent, as well as for social times like coffee after seniors walking groups.

Then you walk into the gym itself, an impressive space 17,000 square feet in size, with a 32 foot to 26 foot high ceiling inside. Around the perimeter of the gym is a 180 metre elevated track. The overall building is 22,400 square feet.

The day the Pioneer comes for a tour, the lines had just been painted onto the new floor. We could only look from the sidelines, then from above, at the sheer scale of the new facility.

“I’m pretty blown away,” said Bryan Armstrong, recreation centre coordinator, as he surveyed the space. The site has been closed, even to staff at the Akisqnuk band office located a stone’s throw away. Now, workers are only a few weeks from final completion. The plan is to open the Columbia Lake Recreation Centre by January 15th.

Features to the new space include the full-length gymnasium, dasher boards for sports like soccer or lacrosse, draw curtains to divide into thirds for smaller space usage, bleachers, weight training equipment and floor exercise space. The elevated track has 5/8 inch thick spongy roll-out rubber, which is super-durable, according to site supervisor Austin Kennedy of InDevelopments Inc. The track is also designed to allow spectators to watch sports games below, and is wide enough to allow two lanes. The plan includes a chairlift to provide access for those with mobility issues to the second level.

The gym floor itself is made of ‘marmoleum’, a natural fibre product.

“It is one of the least injury-producing floors,” says Heather Rennebohm, economic development officer. She says marmoleum has a buoyancy to it not found in other traditional gym floor materials.

The vision of the centre, ‘Honouring athletes of yesterday through supporting all those of today and tomorrow,’ anchors the community as they anticipate the opening of the new facility.

“It’s a bricks and mortar building. But the community sees it as more than that – as a focal point, a celebration of our history,” says Ms. Rennebohm. “Akisqnuk has a long history of winning sports teams and close-knit community ties (through sports).”

Mr. Armstrong grew up in the Akisqnuk community and says while he played sports growing up, most activities could only be done through the school system.

“Now youth will benefit from this space here, to keep them out of trouble and keep their minds occupied,” he says.

Mr. Armstrong echoes the sentiments of Akisqnuk councillor Jason Nicholas who has been pivotal in helping push the new centre into reality. In a phone interview with the Pioneer, Mr. Nicholas said he definitely wants to see area youth using the centre.

“It’s a pretty tough time on all reservations across Canada with youth, between suicide and drug use. One of my goals was to give kids an option; you can’t make them go play basketball, but if they have the option to instead of getting up to no good … I want to see youth participate more in sports and activities.”

Mr. Armstrong sees the benefit of the centre to the greater Columbia Valley community as well, with gymnasium space available for various user groups. Pickleball players have already negotiated time slots, while Mr. Armstrong is in serious discussions with several other clubs including Columbia Valley Youth Soccer.

The walking track will likely bring out Akisqnuk elders as well as the greater Valley seniors community, Mr. Armstrong speculates. The inside track will allow users to walk safely without fear of ice or cold in the winter, or getting too hot in the summer.

The building is temperature-controlled, thanks to the pre-engineered insulated panels that form the walls of the centre. Ms. Rennebohm says the panels also allowed for a quicker build, plus lower utility costs as well as a lower carbon footprint.

Mr. Nicolas is excited to see the centre finally open.

“We’ve been waiting roughly 20 years for this, so it’s long overdue. Everybody’s very happy it’s finally happened,” he says.

Mr. Nicholas says he hopes the centre will be bridge-building between the different communities across the Columbia Valley. He says the reaction in the Valley has been great, with people surprised to hear it is a public facility open to all and asking about when they can buy a pass.

The whole project cost approximately $4.5 million. Akisqnuk saved for 20 years to get the project off the ground. Other financial partners include Columbia Basin Trust, Regional District of East Kootenay, BC Rural Dividend Fund, New Relationships Trust, and Teck.

Special introductory pricing is available now, and anyone who signs up before January 15th is eligible for the special rates. For more information or to buy a pass, call Brian Armstrong at 250-342-6111 or email

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