Aylmer's pickleball players ask Gatineau to meet their sport’s growing infrastructure needs
Those walking by Woods Park in Wychwood will likely have encountered the pock, pock, pock sound of pickleballers in the outdoor rink. And if you’ve stopped to watch, chances are you’ve been asked to try it out for yourself.
Pickleball has attracted many retired folks, as well as younger players who have been attracted by the fun, active, and social aspects inherent to the sport. The issue now, many players and organisers have expressed, is the lack of infrastructure in Aylmer, both for outdoor and indoor play.
“We’re always encouraging people to try the sport because it’s so fun, and it brings many benefits with it,” said Edmonde Lanteigne, “but we’ve gotten to a point now where we don’t have enough courts.” Edmonde Lanteigne, her husband Jacques Bélisle, and Martin Boileau have formed an unofficial pickleball committee to advocate on behalf of Aylmer’s two-hundred-plus pickleball players.
According to Stéphane Brière, Director General of the Quebec Pickleball Federation, the number of registered members in the province has been doubling year over year for the past several years—and that’s not including non-registered players, which suggests that the numbers are significantly higher. But Quebec is not alone. This rapid growth is being echoed on the world stage, where professional, televised pickleball leagues and tournaments have cropped up, with investors such as Tom Brady, LeBron James and Eva Longoria in on the gold rush.
Martin Boileau, an avid Aylmer pickleball player and a former Director General at Sports Canada, says that he can see pickleball eventually being included as a demonstration sport in the Summer Olympics and Paralympics.
The outdoor rink at Woods Park is the primary and most favoured location for pickleball in Aylmer. It houses four pickleball courts, meaning that a maximum of 16 players can be playing at a time. However, there are typically many more players who show up. “At peak times, we can get upwards of 44 players,” said Jacques Bélisle. “We are often having to wait over 15 minutes between matches, because we are too many with too few courts.” There are other locations in Aylmer with pickleball courts, such as at Lakeview, Front and Belmont Park, but they have only one or two courts. Pickleball is a social sport, and players generally prefer to play as a community.
The other issue being raised is that Aylmer’s pickleball courts are painted on top of existing sports infrastructure. “The pickleball locations we have are shared with other sports—one is a hockey rink and the others are tennis courts, which often leads to time-conflicts between sports and players,” said Lanteigne.
The unofficial pickleball committee met with several of Aylmer’s City councillors in early June of this year. They came to the meeting with the goal of securing at least one dedicated Aylmer pickleball location, with a minimum of six courts.
Prior to the meeting, Bélisle had studied various courts around town, and had put forward the Jardins-Lavigne tennis court as a potential location. “Currently, there is a tennis court there, but there are many cracks and cavities in the pavement, which make it practically unusable. We were hoping that the city could fix the pavement and dedicate it to pickleball, with six courts.”
“We left that meeting feeling discouraged, hopeless. We were provided with no solutions, and we were given a ‘no’ for what we proposed. Frankly, we feel that the councillors don’t see pickleball as a priority,” said Lanteigne, Bélisle and Boileau.
Gilles Chagnon, Councillor for the district of Lucerne confirmed with the Bulletin that the Jardins-Lavigne tennis court will be re-paved and “will also be able to entertain pickleball,” meaning two pickleball courts will be painted within the tennis court. Bélisle said that four pickleball courts can easily fit in a tennis court. For reference, pickleball courts are 20 by 44 feet, pointing to another instance where municipal administrators aren’t in touch with the reality on the ground.
Chagnon also confirmed that there will be indoor pickleball courts in the sportsplex that the city is planning to build in the Plateau, but said that he could not provide a date for when it will be available. Estimates are 2028. In response to this news, the pickleball committee said that two courts, again to be shared with tennis players, is a disappointment.
Another side of the story comes from those other sports players. Vern Dupuis’ plans to play hockey at Woods Park were twice foiled in one week because the rink was occupied by pickleballers. “I’m happy to see neighbours being active, but it’s disappointing when I show up to the rink with my hockey stick and I can’t play,” adding half jokingly, “I just hope I won’t see them out there with skates and their nets in the winter.”
Photo 1 caption: Pickleball players gather for a group photo at Woods Park on June 20, 2023.
Photo 2 caption: Martin Boileau, Edmonde Lanteigne and Jacques Bélisle posing in front of the outdoor rink at Woods Park with their pickleball paddles in hand, June 20, 2023.
Photo credit: Alana Repstock