According to the 2016 Statistics Canada Census, less than 300 people live in Forest Grove. Yet, despite the minuscule population, there’s more there than you might expect, including a curling rink, a nearby park and an elementary school. However, the driving force behind much of what’s there is set to disappear as the Forest Grove 94 Lions are looking at shutting down at the end of June when the Lions’ fiscal year is over.
“The club’s been on the edge of membership problems for a long time,” says Chris Cummings, who’s in his sixth year as president. “Everybody’s kind of tapped out. We’ve been asking and nobody’s come forward.”
Because of the lack of new membership, Cummings says nobody is willing to fill the president role. The closure would follow the closure of the Interlakes Lions club earlier in the year and the Clinton Lions club a few years ago.
“The main activities that we have, we run the Redneck Regatta,” which was a growing success in recent years, says Cummings. “We also run the park under a parks management contract with BC parks… the other activity, the other key one is the curling rink in Forest Grove.”
The last Regatta had well over 200 people at the park, he says, with seven boats participating. As it stands that event is unlikely to happen. The park where the event usually takes place is also at risk.
“All of the structural facilities at Ruth Lake have been put in place by the Lions, the picnic tables, the steps, the posts along the parking area, the outhouses, putting the floats for kids in the summer, the whole park” he says adding that the shelter was built by Pete van Osch.
The curling rink is the next item of concern. The two sheet curling rink was down for about five years shortly after Cummings moved there 12 years ago.
“We decided as a club we would try to get it going again. So, we raised enough grants, raised enough money to buy a new ice plant: at $130,000.”
The Lions have a contract with the Forest Grove Community Hall Rec Society to run the curling. An interested group could take that over he says, although nobody is lined up right now. Even so, the knowledge to put in and maintain the ice would be lost. There’s also still an outstanding loan of about $6,000. “The loss of the curling club at this point would be tragic.”
This is in addition to smaller services the Lions offer, such as emergency wood services during cold winter months and providing wheelchairs.
Perhaps one of the Lions’ biggest contributions to the community is through the presence of the elementary school.
In 2003-04, a David and Goliath struggle began in Forest Grove, with the elementary school slated to be closed. Despite protests and occupation of the school by parents and grandparents, it was. Furnaces and boilers were removed, bathroom stalls were taken out, toilets cracked, wires and pipes cut. The school was being vandalized by a government that had stated there would never be a school in Forest Grove again, according to Marianne van Osch, a local writer.
An independent school was started and opened in the 94 Lions den at the community hall with ten kindergarten students and four volunteer teachers. The next year enrollment increased to twenty-three students from kindergarten to grade four. The space wasn’t ideal and the 94 Lions decided to lease the old school and start renovations, from furnaces to washroom stalls.
Today, the school has around 74 students.
“If the Lions club did shut down, the existence of Ruth Lake Park and it’s facilities are in jeopardy, curling is in jeopardy, emergency wood services is in jeopardy and I really think people don’t know until it’s gone, what they’re going to miss,” says Cummings. “I would mourn the loss of the club on behalf of the community.”
With files from Marianne van Osch.