THUNDER BAY – A former baseball diamond at Chapples Park is the first official home for Thunder Bay’s growing cricket community.
The addition of a concrete pad in the centre of the field is the first step in building what a group of supporters hopes will become a hub for the city’s cricketers.
The growing ranks of local players, many of them international students, have sometimes used the Hangar at Lakehead University, but lacked a dedicated facility.
“Students were using parking lots,” said Michael Nitz, a district vice president with TD, which chipped in with funding. “We really wanted to create a place just for the cricket community to come together and have a place to play.”
Nitz worked with Farhan Yousaf, executive director of the Lakehead University Student Union (LUSU), the project’s major funder, to move it forward.
“There was never a permanent structure for cricket,” said Yousaf. “As we saw more [international] students coming to Lakehead and Confederation College, the need for [a pitch] grew.”
Nitz said the plan for a pitch came out of larger discussions about how to make Thunder Bay welcoming to international students.
“As we talked to a lot of students moving here for Lakehead University and Confederation College, we find a job of course is important, but they’re really looking for cultural experiences, as well as sports and recreation,” he said.
“It’s so critical that we welcome everyone from around the world, give them opportunities to play sports, engage in cultural events… This is a big step to making Thunder Bay a more inclusive and welcoming community.”
“The cricket community definitely has grown,” since he arrived at Lakehead as an international student, said Yousaf. “When I first came, I could count on my fingers how many people played.”
Now, he believes there are well over a thousand people who play in Thunder Bay.
Yousaf agreed that recreational and cultural opportunities can play a big part in the experience of newcomers to the community.
“I came here, I started playing soccer and that’s how I met a lot of people,” he said. “Having a cricket pitch here now, I think it’s a huge boost for the city, potentially in retaining students as well. Our hope is the sport grows – sports is the best way to connect with people and come together.”
The group approached the City of Thunder Bay, which agreed to dedicate a baseball diamond at Chapples Park, and a cement pitch was installed in late summer.
“There was a community desire to have access to a cricket facility,” said city parks manager Cory Halvorsen.
He called the arrangement at Chapples a win-win, with the city able to offer new recreation options and the group covering construction costs.
The long-term viability of the site will depend on city plans for the area, he said, which could include construction of a multi-use turf facility.
The group plans to cover the concrete pad with a mat next year, and hopes to even the field with new turf.
It’s just the beginning for the sport locally, Nitz believes.
“It’s been very well received and highly used – there’ve been tournaments, and usually on the weekends you’ll see a number of people out here playing,” he said. “When you compare how many baseball diamonds we have in this city, we reflect sometimes on how many cricket pitches will be here a decade from now.”
Yousaf hopes the pitch will serve as a hub for the cricket community, ideally with the addition of lights, a scoreboard, and more bleachers.
“We hope down the line we could have cricket summer league and start programming for kids as well, and introduce the sport to the local population,” he said. “It is the second most popular sport in the world.”