Winters in Saskatoon can be long and cold, and the COVID-19 pandemic only exacerbates the effects of being stuck indoors for long periods of time.
But the City of Saskatoon is encouraging people to get out there, enjoy the city and support local businesses this year through the Take It Outside Winter Animation Fund.
The Grants and Micro-Grants program, created in response to COVID-19, has provided a total of $ 175,000 to nonprofits, businesses, organizations and other groups in the city to support safe outdoor activities in Saskatoon this winter.
Grant recipients have everything in place, from snowshoeing lessons and an outdoor theater wellness retreat to extended public skating hours.
Cathy Sproule received a grant to host a Snow Ball, an outdoor dance party with live music, at the Saskatoon Farmers’ Market. The first of the three scheduled balls will take place this Sunday from noon to 2 p.m.
Sproule says the grant has enabled him and the other musicians to organize something that will be both safe and widely accessible.
“We are only allowed to take 10 people out at the moment with the COVID restrictions,” she said. “So we’ll have a tent set up for the musicians – there will be a piano, a violin and we will have a caller. And we’ve researched different dances that you can do solo. We’re going to spray paint on nine foot squares. the ground, on the snow, for people to stay in their own little dance bubble. “
Sproule said being able to go out and “be social, listen to good music and kick your feet” is important to keep people’s spirits up this year.
“Live music and dancing is… something that we do a lot here in Saskatchewan and it’s just an extension of that,” she said.
“And this winter in particular, it means a lot. Due to the pandemic, we have been limited in our relationships with people, and we have certainly been limited in our musical relationships and our ability to dance.”
A boon for local businesses
For some grant seekers, the impact of the funds goes beyond social connections and fun activities – they’re a boon to local businesses as well.
Nancy Broten is the owner of Life Outside Gear Exchange, a new consignment store located at 120 Sonnenschein Way in Saskatoon, specializing in outdoor clothing and gear.
When she heard about the grant, she said she could see right away how she wanted to use the funds to help support her business.
Life Outside used the micro-grant funding to purchase winter equipment for rent that is not generally available for rent in Saskatoon, allowing families to try new activities and enjoy the outdoors. in a different way.
“We have nursery shuttles; they’re like a sled system where you can pull kids while you’re on the snow whether you’re cross-country skiing or snowshoeing or just on the trail, ”she said.
“We also rent snowfeets, which are kind of a mix of snowshoeing and skiing, and are just a fun thing to do on the hill.”
She said the experience has also brought her closer to other local businesses, community associations and outdoor-focused groups who are also keen to help people enjoy the city this winter.
And after launching the store through a very difficult year, Broten says the micro-grant also helped support Life Outside during its first winter.
“There has been a very positive response and it has really supported our business,” she said. “We take advantage of the rentals because the grant pays for what we’ve bought, but it also brings people into our business – and we really need both the shippers and the customers as a new startup. “
Broten has also used micro-grants to buy fire pits, which she hopes to install in the old farmer’s market building on weekends so people can stay warm, safely socialize, and enjoy a few s’mores. .
And while many of the Take It Outside grant recipients’ projects focused specifically on physical distance activities this year, Broten believes that creating all of these connections and structures for outdoor winter fun will help support a A healthier and more connected Saskatoon long after the pandemic is a distant memory.
“Whether there is COVID or not, I think everyone can agree that being outside is just healthy for the mind, the body, for our community and for our society,” she said.
“Saskatoon is truly a four-season city”
Saskatoon Community Development Director Kevin Kitchen says he’s happy to see how enthusiastic local groups are about the grants.
As the city works on its winter strategy, Kitchen says she will learn from the experience.
“We have had other grants that community groups can apply to for outdoor activities,” he said. “And what’s really interesting is that until COVID came along, people mostly seemed to be asking for funding for summer outdoor events.
“So we want to do a little better by communicating that Saskatoon is truly a four season city, community groups can apply for our grant year round for winter activities and there are all kinds of really innovative outdoor winter activities and wonderful. it can happen. “