Millions For New, Improved Parks And Recreation











by Jeffrey Reed, Editor,

When discussing the growth of London’s sports infrastructure, I always turn to a conversation I had in the early 1980s with Fanshawe Falcons’ legendary men’s basketball coach Glenn Johnston. At that time, the Falcons were playing out of the cozy confines of outdated B Gymnasium, where driving for the basket often meant crashing into the gym stage.

Johnston quipped, “They’ll never build a new gym at Fanshawe College during my lifetime.” But today, the Falcons’ – in part – owe their recruiting and team successes to the state-of-the-art Glenn Johnston Athletic Centre. Said Fanshawe’s manager of athletics Nathan McFadden, “We treat our student athletes second to none. That’s a big part of what we do. It’s important to me, and it certainly gets paid back to you in competition.”

Budweiser Gardens

As the city of London continues to grow at an unprecedented rate, so, too, does our parks and recreation focus. We saw huge windfalls from hosting the 2001 Canada Summer Games, including the 2000 construction of TD Stadium at Western University. And 2002-opened Budweiser Gardens – built as John Labatt Centre – not only changed the downtown core, but also acts as a magnet for hosting big-time events like the World Figure Skating Championships.

But if there is anything which defines Londoners, it’s our love of recreational sports. The City recognizes this, and now is targeting another $54.6 million for additions and upgrades to parks and recreation infrastructure.

The City has applied for $40 million from the federal and provincial governments through the Investing in Canada Infrastructure Program. London’s share of $14.6 million has been approved within the upcoming multi-year budget, said London Parks and Recreation division manager Jon-Paul McGonigle.

“The municipal share … should not be taken as though that’s all the funding that (the City) would have available,” McGonigle explained. If the province and the feds don’t come through, then the City will proceed on a smaller scale. McGonigle said initial notice of approval through the Canada Infrastructure Program is expected during summer 2020, with a second intake of the funding coming in 2021.

The largest portion of the $54.6 million is the $36-million Southeast Community Centre, including a double-pad arena.

Labatt Park

“The Southeast Community Centre has been on the books for quite some time – all the way back to our 2009 Parks and Recreation master plan. We expected growth patterns in that community. And now, we’re already starting to think about the northwest as well,” McGonigle explained.

Labatt Park – site of the world’s oldest continuous baseball grounds – is getting a facelift to include bleacher repairs, and new lights which will be more pleasing to neighbouring residents. And who knows? Maybe better lighting will help the Intercounty Baseball League London Majors end their jinx of no league titles since 1975.

“The world of sport lighting has changed greatly,” said McGonigle. “New lighting has less impact on surrounding residents and neighbourhoods, and actually improves playability. So as we build new facilities and sporting infrastructures, we will always go with energy-efficient sport lighting.”

Jon-Paul McGonigle

Two sports seeing huge participation influxes are cricket, and pickleball. Under the new plan, the City will add outdoor pickleball courts and a cricket pitch as part of a $5.1-million upgrade to Silverwood Arena and park.

“We’re always monitoring participation numbers for all sports, and cricket is one that has seen some big growth over the past decade,” said McGonigle. “If you look back at our 2009 Parks and Recreation master plan, there was no mention of cricket in that document. In 2019, it’s very prevalent.

“And to be honest, there are not a lot of days in my life at Parks and Recreation when pickleball is not part of a discussion. It’s a sport that has exploded in the past few years. Over the next 20 years, London’s senior population will see about 67 per cent growth. It is the largest demographic of growth in the city, so we really need to start planning for that.”

While seniors love pickleball, tennis participation is seeing its largest increase since the boom of the 1970s. The heavily-used outdoor courts at Thames Park are being replaced, and McGonigle said with Mississauga’s Bianca Andreescu recently winning the U.S. Women’s Open tennis championship, we can expect even more youngsters taking up the game.

Increased usage of existing infrastructure is another focus of the City’s latest parks and recreation focus, which will see Thames Valley Golf Club clubhouse converted to a year-round community centre – part of a million-dollar upgrade.

Thames Valley Golf Club clubhouse

“There are some beautiful meeting rooms in the basement of Thames Valley’s clubhouse that need some cosmetic upgrades. And it’s important to note that the municipal golf system in London is a self-sustaining system,” McGonigle said.

“Any time you have an opportunity to get cash injections to utilize a property that seems to have a single use, and create more use with a broader reach, we will always do that.”

London continues to grow – just take a look at the new homes being built in all sectors the city for proof. And with a larger and more diverse population, the city will continue to eye additions and upgrades to its parks and recreation infrastructure.

It’s a big part of why Londoners love living here.


Jeffrey Reed has been covering sports in Southwestern Ontario since 1980. He is also editor of, the Voice of Golf in Southwestern Ontario. Reach him at

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About jeffreyreed

A leading Canadian communications professional. Corporate office established 1989. Publisher/Editor of this website and Sports journalist since 1980.

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