By RYAN KING
PORT AUX BASQUES — Wanda Merrigan retired on May 29 from her position as facilities manager at the Bruce II Sports Centre, a position she held since 2018. She went to work at the Bruce II in 2005 as the aquatic supervisor. She took with her many fond memories.
“It was a multifaceted role up there because I worked through several changeovers in staff, so there were times that I often filled in as facilities manager, there were times that I filled in as the administrative assistant. I just did whatever needed to be done basically, like most staff up there, we cross-train everybody,” said Merrigan.
She said that she loved every minute of it there. Each day was different for her, and what she was doing depended on the season.
“If it was the fall of the year, we would be getting ready to put the ice on the rink, the curling club, getting ready for bowling season to start up, and getting ready for the figure skating and minor hockey to start,” said Merrigan. “If it were the spring of the year, we would be getting ready for the summer program.”
She also played a hand in developing the autism program at the Bruce II, which benefited many children in the community.
“Joan (Chaisson, Autism Involves Me) had approached the town about having fitness equipment for kids who are on the spectrum. And I happened to be in that position at the time. So, there was a good go-between her and the town. And then our relationship, mine and Joan’s relationship, developed from there,” shared Merrigan. “After we started with the kid’s gym, then we started a learn-to-swim program for children on the spectrum. We changed the way that we ran our summer program to allow it to be a much more inclusive program.”
Putting the program in place, and watching the impact it had on the children, Merrigan said, was nothing short of amazing.
“It was fascinating to watch, really,” admitted Merrigan. “It was not a difficult summer, but it was a little more difficult than normal because our staff were not equipped to deal with a child with autism.”
The program has come a long way since its early days.
“Every day we were calling a mom to come over and talk to her child, or to help us,” recalled Merrigan. “To where the program is the last two years up there, prior to COVID, we had one student councilor dedicated to working with children on the spectrum.”
Kids who would otherwise be excluded soon became a regular part of the program. However this was not the only initiative for which Merrigan holds fond memories – the swimming program also holds a special place in her heart.
“I loved our swimming program, loved watching kids come into the program. I started up there 16 years ago in the pool, and had children, young children, come in at two or three years old who were just starting. Several of those children became lifeguards, and graduated this year. So, to watch little kids mature into adults was a particularly enjoyable part of my work up there,” said Merrigan.
Merrigan noted that this became particularly difficult when the pandemic hit.
“Incredibly challenging, and it was stressful. I think COVID was a deciding factor for retiring when I did. I have three young grandchildren, one I haven’t seen in a year and a bit, and two other little ones in Nova Scotia, and I think COVID made me realize that life is too short,” admitted Merrigan.
“Work-wise, it was a struggle because we had people laid off, and that’s stressful. You know, you don’t want to see your coworkers not working. When we started to reopen, most facilities that had arenas had a set of guidelines for an arena, and some places had a set of guidelines for a swimming pool.
As a director of a multi-sport facility, Merrigan had to adhere to strict guidelines related to all activities. Organizing activities around public health protocols was not the only challenge presented by the pandemic. People became frustrated by the new and ever-shifting rules.
“As much as 90 per cent of the people coming through our building were easy, and wanting to get back to play. But you know, you have that 10 per cent who didn’t want to follow rules, and questioned every decision that you made. And that, for months and months on end, was a struggle,” admitted Merrigan.
The pandemic may have taken some of the fun out of the job for Merrigan, but it was first and foremost the fun in recreation that drew her to this type of work initially.
“When I started in the workforce a long, long time ago. I made my living working swimming pools and teaching figure skating,” recalled Merrigan. “When we moved to Port aux Basques, there was no pool here. We moved to Port aux Basques in 1985 or 86. So, I went to work at the BMO (Bank of Montreal), for a little over 18 years. And well, they had opened the pool here, and they had a couple of aquatic supervisors up there. And it had kind of been in the back of my mind. It’s what I love to do.”
Merrigan grew up in Clarenville, and still goes back east to visit her father’s cabin in Waterville. What brought her here originally was a job transfer for her ex-husband.
“So, we moved here, thinking that I was coming for two years, and it’s been 35,” said Merrigan.
She has also been a volunteer with the Red Cross for around the past 16 years. She went to Alberta to help families affected by the wildfires in 2017.
“I did a stint of three weeks in Fort Mac after the fires. That I would say was life changing but incredibly stressful work. Because I was doing client assessments, so it was one-on-one with people who were affected by the fires and there were far too many stories. You know people lost everything. It certainly gives you a different outlook on life. It made me incredibly thankful for me to come back to my own home, back to the things that keep you comfortable,” said Merrigan.
She has memories of her Red Cross work in this region also.
“There have been many because most house fires that have happened in town we have responded to. The one that stands out most is the old Grand Bay Motel, which had been turned into apartments, and there were a lot of seniors there that lost their home. It was a group that was more than one family. That was sad, but rewarding,” said Merrigan.
These days Merrigan is enjoying a chance to relax and focus on what matters most – her family.
“It’s been like, instead of a retirement day, I’ve had a retirement month. Every day has been like a social and a party. I have to be honest, I was a little nervous starting retirement, because I’ve thought that when you get up you have to have a purpose in life. But my purpose now, I’m going to spend my summer with my grandchildren in Sydney,” shared Merrigan
Merrigan is confident that the Bruce II is in capable hands.
“There’s three of them up there actually. There’s Tony Tulk, he’s going to be the day-to-day operations supervisor. And Tori Herridge is the administrative supervisor. And then Jessica Musseau is looking after the pool. So, that job has been split several ways,” said Merrigan.
Having to divide her position between three people goes to show just how crucial a role Merrigan filled. It also indicates just how busy the work can be at the Bruce II.
“For the last year and a half it was a completely different environment to work in, because it’s normally fast paced. You’re busy from the time that you come in till the time that you leave. Since COVID started, it hasn’t been like that,” said Merrigan.
Though she may be taking her time to visit family, Port aux Basques will always be home for her.
“I’ve raised my family here in Port aux Basques – it’s my home. Port aux Basques has been good to me since I’ve came. I (have) absolutely loved it here.