City shifts Calgary pool schedules to combat lifeguard shortage

After pandemic pool shutdowns, qualified lifeguards are hard to find.  (Helen Pike/CBC - image credit)
After pandemic pool shutdowns, qualified lifeguards are hard to find. (Helen Pike/CBC - image credit)

The City of Calgary is pooling resources to make up for a lack of lifeguard staff this summer.

After looking at the statistics, and assessing the needs of Calgarians, the manager of recreation service delivery said two pools will scale back to ensure Village Square Leisure Centre and Southland Leisure Centre can meet the seasonal demand.

"We're about 100 head-count shy of where we need to be to get all our pools open," Jarret Hoebers said. "We're doing our best to prioritize our service and geographic areas and get all Calgary some kind of access to pools."

With staffing issues, pools are operating at about 80 per cent of pre-pandemic levels.

He said there is less demand for swimming lessons in the summer months but an increase in pressure from summer camps, and families like to be able to access wave pools as much as possible.

That means making some changes.

The Inglewood Aquatic Centre will open only three days a week, while the Shouldice Aquatic Centre will close completely. These changes begin June 26 with service returning to regular levels Sept. 5.

'We don't have the staff'

"We'd like to have as much service available to Calgarians as we can," Hoebers said. "But because we don't have the staff that we need to have all our pools running, we do need to make some service adjustments."

With the Inglewood pool's history, including a brush with permanent closure in 2020, users are concerned about this decision.

Melanie Rock has been coming to the small community pool, a short bike ride from her East Village home, to swim laps. She says there's a lack of choices in the inner city.

Inglewood pool users concerned

"For me, interrupting a routine is really difficult right now and it's part of a rehabilitation treatment plan so that I'm better able to function," she said, adding she's experiencing symptoms of long COVID. "This is a shame."

Fiona McKenzie, who also uses the Inglewood pool, said this decision doesn't make sense. Having a facility nearby stops people from hopping in their cars to drive farther away.

"There's a lot of people who are very upset about this," McKenzie said. "For me, and a lot of other people, this is so needed for people's well-being, mental and physical health. A lot of people are not going to be going to leisure centres, it's just not a doable thing."

Another fear, she said, is people may not return to the pool when the schedule reverts to normal.


Coun. Gian-Carlo Carra said the Inglewood facility is staying open only under the condition the community uses it until the MNP Community & Sport Centre upgrades are complete. That's where city council decided to corral community pool users.

"We told the Inglewood community you have to use it or lose it," said Carra, representative for Ward 9. "And despite the fact that Inglewood has been using it more, we have a crisis on the other end and the crisis is staffing."

He called it an unfortunate interruption driven by supply and demand.

The City of Calgary is still trying to hire lifeguards, but Hoebers said it is unlikely the workforce will rebound in time to reverse changes made to the summer pool schedule.