By Darren Lum
Just before 2020 is over it seems COVID-19 has struck another public event down.
Health safety is standing out as the guiding influence over the decision to cancel winter driving events at the Minden Fairgrounds this winter.
With rising COVID-19 cases in the province, and the Haliburton, Kawartha, Pine Ridge District Health Unit region moving to the Yellow-Protect level of Ontario’s COVID-19 response framework on Monday, Dec. 7, the township’s Minden Hills emergency management group decided the fairgrounds should not be used for driving events this winter, resulting in an end to a 43-year annual tradition of ice racing and two decades of winter driving lessons by the ILR Car Control School.
Minden Hills chief administrative officer Trisha McKibbin wrote in an email, “After an extensive discussion, the emergency control group determined that in order to protect the safety of Haliburton County residents, participants, volunteers and staff that it is in the best interest of public health that the fairgrounds not be utilized this winter season. Past participants who have used the fairgrounds during the winter have been notified of this decision and have been informed that they are welcome to make a delegation to council if they so wish.”
The decision was met with disappointment but understanding by all parties involved with the ice track and skid pad, whether it was the Kin Club of Minden, which has always created and maintained the winter venue, or the two lead representatives of the user groups from driving instructor Ian Law of ILR Car Control School, or Russ Bond, owner of Russ Bond Agency, representing DriveTeq driving school and SportCUP Incorporated.
Law said he was disappointed when the township notified him he would not be permitted to host winter driving lessons from February to March this winter.
“My heart sank,” he said. “To be honest, this could kill our school. The winter is one of our biggest income generators.”
Law plans to appeal the decision and will make his case during a delegation at the next township meeting on Dec. 10.
Kin Club president Andy Rickard, who said he respected the decision made by the Minden Hills emergency control group and believes in their reasoning to keep the community safe, said it was a unanimous decision (president does not vote) to forgo an ice track and skid pad this winter.
“There was a motion passed at our meeting last night that our motto is to serve the community’s greatest need and that means to us, at this point, that’s keeping the community safe, so the Kin Club have notified our customers that we will not be building an ice track this year,” he said, referencing the regular club meeting on Dec. 7 in their food building at the fairgrounds.
When Law heard from the Kin Club about their vote, he wasn’t dissuaded from going ahead with his appeal.
“I am still going to address council hoping they will give us special dispensation since we are providing a service to front-line workers and first responders with regards to their safety,” he wrote in an email. “We can also let council know we work with very small groups and we can do so with no personal interaction between us and Minden residents. I know it is a very slim chance, but if they do allow us to do our training, then we would need to figure out how to get our ice built.”
Rickard, the president for the past five years commended long-time Kin Club members Tom Prentice Sr. and son Jack for voting against ice making, particularly when Tom Prentice & Sons Trucking will lose the contracts for work this winter.
Prentice Sr. said they voted with the club and its motto: Serving the community’s greatest needs.
“What Jack and I said was this is not the community’s greatest need,” he said. “This helps a few businesses so we kind of felt that bringing in a bunch of people in from the city wasn’t the community’s greatest need.”
At 79, Prentice Sr. said it came down to safety for himself, the people and the community.
When the Canadian Automobile Sport Clubs pulled out of this year’s ice racing earlier, a group including DriveTeq driving school and SportCUP Incorporated were ready to step in to help organize a racing series at the fairgrounds. However, the emergency control group decision has left Bond without a venue.
“We understand and respect the decision along with the challenges faced by the Minden Hills emergency control group,” Bond told the paper. “However, we were disappointed that we did not get the opportunity to present our COVID protocol program to the board before they made their decision. Additionally, we really feel for the Minden area small businesses like the Dominion Hotel and others that we won’t get to support this winter during these already tough times.”
Weeks before the decision, Molly McInerney, who owns and operates Molly’s Bistro Bakery with Guy Dumas, said losing the winter driving takes away another public event that draws people.
“It’s events like the ice racing, Festival of Trees, the [Haliburton County] Fair, the [Minden Kin] truck pull, Pride Week and the like that injected new people and dollars into the community,” McInerney wrote in an email. “We will have to get creative to make up for that loss.”
She said the business has already tried to attract more customers through avenues such as participating in the county tourism department’s “date night” promotion that started in November.
McInerney was optimistic about the situation, however.
“The town might have a bit more business this winter from the snowbirds that are planning on staying home this winter. We can hope for a good snowmobile season and hopefully the trails in and out of Minden will be open,” she wrote.
Law said there is an irony to this situation.
“So here we are making the roads safer, which means we’re reducing the number of crashes and collisions on the roads, which means we’re not only reducing fatalities, but we’re reducing the number of people ending up in the hospital, which is one of the concerns for COVID, is worrying about overwhelming the health system,” he said.
The experienced driving instructor said he never considered another track other than Minden’s. He adds the local ice crew has always been very responsive to track needs, whether it’s clearing an accumulation of snow or repairing any damage.
Rickard adds the loss of the ice track clients will reduce the club’s revenue, but he fully understands a price can’t be placed on a person’s life.
“We’re holding tight to hope for a truck pull this summer,” he said. “The club financially is OK. We’re able to sustain ourselves until [we have to] set ourselves up for the truck pull. Hopefully this situation is such that we can have a truck pull in June because the town could sure use the party.”