Clay tennis courts: Aylmer residents lobby Gatineau
A local resident recently filed documents to Gatineau elected officials, requesting more investment in clay tennis courts in Aylmer. Seeing the sport’s rise in popularity in recent years, especially among local youth – with breakout stars like Bianca Andreescu, Félix Auger-Aliassime and Denis Shapovalov entering the spotlight – Aylmerite Eric Tardif feels concerned about the lack of local tennis infrastructure compared to other sectors and cities.
In his letter to the city, Tardif suggested building an indoor racket-sport facility featuring different types of installations for activities like tennis, pickleball and ping-pong that would be accessible year-round. At the least, he believes the city should invest in an outdoor facility with clay tennis courts and a chalet with restrooms, access to water, and storage spaces for equipment. “It can be realized in multiple phases,” Tardif said in the letter. “But if it’s at least planned in its entirety at the start, it will be easier to add more phases as the time comes.
Tardif estimated that most cities in Quebec with comparable populations to Gatineau have at least one clay tennis court per 12,600 residents – noting that Longueuil has 247,000 residents and seven clay courts; Sherbrooke has 167,000 residents and 15 clay courts; and, Trois-Rivières has 137,000 residents and eight clay tennis courts.
The Wychwood Tennis Club (CTW), a well-reputed club in the province, boasts 558 members, 306 of whom are youth. “That’s without considering the fast growth of population in the coming years,” Tardif said. “In the rest of Gatineau, there are about 50 kids who play tennis. Aylmer is a gem for tennis.”
Stating that clay courts provide many advantages over asphalt and acrylic courts, including fewer injuries and less sun-induced heat during the summer, and that they cost approximately $60,000 less to build than acrylic courts, Tardif believes the smartest investment for the city is building clay tennis courts in Aylmer. “When you coach on a cement court, when it’s 32 degrees [Celsius], you can’t coach anymore,” Tardif said. “The pavement creates so much heat. With clay courts, more air circulates.”
--Asking the people what they want
Launching his initiative last October, Tardif conducted a survey focusing on needs for recreational tennis players, to which 350 amateur players from Gatineau responded. Of the participants, 162 (46.3 per cent) were Aylmer residents, and 143 (40.9 per cent) were CTW members. He added that 165 people (47.1 per cent) responded on behalf of their families, 162 (46.3) answered for themselves, and that 26 (6.6 per cent) responded for their kids. In the survey, 63.9 per cent of responders said the city needs to invest a lot more money in tennis facilities, while 35.5 per cent said the city should invest a little more money. It added that 51.1 per cent of participants indicated that the city’s need to build new tennis courts is ‘very important’.
Last November, the city hosted a public consultation on racket-sport infrastructure, which saw 76 participants. Reacting to the event, Tardif said he felt discouraged about suggestions of continuing to integrate tennis and pickleball courts – which has already been done in Hull and Gatineau. “It’s illogical to add another discipline on tennis courts, which are already in deficient numbers, and that includes everywhere in the city,” Tardif said. He added that pickleball can feasibly be played in gymnasiums, while tennis can’t so much. Since the two sports have different lines, Tardif said the multi-purpose courts tend to cause confusion and frustration among tennis players – sometimes discouraging them from playing.
The lack of infrastructure also causes Aylmer-based players to go elsewhere, like Hull, Gatineau, and Ottawa, where the experience is better, Tardif said. Having helped Tardif organize the survey, CTW and Outaouais Regional Tennis Association (ARTO) President France Gilbert said she’s a big proponent of clay tennis courts and not a fan of integrating pickleball courts and tennis courts. “When there are too many lines, it’s difficult to see your own lines,” Gilbert said, noting that pickleball players can play indoors because the courts are smaller than in tennis.
While clay courts require more maintenance than acrylic and asphalt courts, such as regular watering, Gilbert noted that high temperatures can make cement courts unbearable for tennis players. “If we want to go towards something that produces less heat, clay courts are something to look at,” Gilbert said. She added that clay courts are beneficial for older players concerned with getting injured, and for elite players who need them to play at the highest level of competition.
Emphasizing that Aylmer’s tennis infrastructure is lacking, she said the idea of an indoor facility would be the best-case scenario. Gilbert noted that Aylmer’s tennis courts are all built individually, while in the sectors they’re mostly set up with multiple courts in the same location. She suggested that the city should start implementing that model with future projects in Aylmer, preferably building them in sets of four or more.
Understanding that tennis is relatively popular in Aylmer, Deschênes district councillor Mike Duggan noted that a very small portion of the population will end up using new tennis courts if they are built. Considering the cost of building, gathering the necessary equipment and maintaining clay tennis courts, Duggan suggested that a private project may be more feasible than a municipally-funded initiative. “The tennis people should put their money together and do something,” Duggan said. “I don’t feel comfortable with such a specialized activity, which is seen as a bit bourgeois, to be taxing people to pay for that … there are companies that provide indoor sports facilities. If you want government-run tennis, don’t knock on my door.” Duggan said that plans regarding new tennis installations need to include pickleball courts as well, considering the popularity of the sport among the aging population.
Noting that the city is investing in revitalizing its selection of hockey arenas with the construction of two sports complexes, Duggan argued that hockey rinks have more versatility than tennis facilities and more heritage value. “Hockey is not just a sport; it’s part of our culture,” Duggan said. “Also, a skating surface can be used for several different things, you can have recreational skating, figure skating, and ringette. Ice surfaces are very Canadian. So, there’s a cultural aspect to that too.”
Aylmer district councillor Audrey Bureau said she understands the needs for more tennis courts in Aylmer, as was emphasized during the city’s consultation in November. She added that she will pay particular attention to how the city incorporates residents’ demands during the consultation in its new plans for recreational infrastructure, noting that nearby sports infrastructure is an essential need. However, with municipally-owned facilities, she emphasized the importance of building multi-purpose installations.
Lucerne district councillor and vice-president of the Commission des loisirs, des sports, et du développement communautaire, Gilles Chagnon, said the file should be discussed by the city sometime this year. “This kind of stuff doesn’t happen overnight,” Chagnon said. “This is a medium- to long-term investment.”
Chagnon affirmed that Aylmer is years behind in terms of recreational infrastructure, including tennis courts and needs to do some catching up. However, he noted that building new skating rinks in Aylmer is his priority. “We can’t get everything in one shot,” Chagnon said. “People can’t expect this to come in the next budget. But we will discuss it.”