Winnipeg parents struggle to get kids into city swimming lessons: 'Already fully booked'

The City of Winnipeg says a shortage of lifeguards is partly to blame for fewer swimming lessons being offered this spring. Iris Dyck reports.

Like many Winnipeg parents, Tessa Jessome spent last Tuesday morning in front of her computer, hoping maybe this would be her lucky day.

And like many other Winnipeg parents, she was left disappointed and without city swimming lessons for her kids.

“Right at 8:00 I logged in, and immediately put on the waitlist to register, and then once it finally opens for registration, they’re already fully booked,” Jessome told Global News this week about her annual attempt at registering her two kids for swimming lessons.

Her kids, aged seven and nine, now take up two of the 11,604 waitlist entries for city swimming lessons.

Last week, the city said lessons were 83-per cent full within four hours of the online registration process opening.

Many parents Global News spoke to Wednesday said they didn’t even bother trying to register this year.

Jessome said she had luck registering her kids when they were younger, but it’s been years since they’ve gotten into city-run swimming classes.

She’s looked at private options, but says the pools aren’t very close to where she lives, and the higher costs also come into play.

“It limits the opportunity,” Jessome said, adding her kids are lucky to have a cottage to swim at during the summer months.

According to the city, the backlog is due in part to a lifeguard shortage, caused by the pandemic, which interrupted training and certification.

In spring 2019, the city offered 2,118 swimming lesson courses.

But this spring, the 2023 leisure guide offers 1,507 courses — about 29 per cent fewer than pre-pandemic.

In an emailed statement, a city spokesperson said 67 people are currently wrapping up lifeguard training through a city recruitment program, which they hope will help the city reach its goal of 300 staff lifeguards by the summer.

Jessome grew up in Ontario, where she says swimming lessons were offered through school.

It’s something she’d like to see here, too, noting learning to swim can mean the difference between life and death.

“It would definitely be a huge advantage for people who don’t have the option to get to the beach or have the luxury of having a cabin on a lake,” she said.

“My children are (lucky), because we have the luxury of cabin availability, but if you didn’t have that, and you hadn’t been prepared for it, like growing up your whole life, it would be a huge challenge.”

— with files from Iris Dyck

© 2023 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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