A furor erupted on social media this past week over the two-week-long closure of the NationsWEST Field House to accommodate religious revival meetings.
The City of North Battleford has posted ads in the newspaper and put up posters outside the field house, announcing the venue is closed to the public from Oct. 29 to Nov. 13 for a private booking, and will reopen Nov. 14.
While most local residents are only finding out about the closure now, the private rental at the field house had actually been in the works for several months.
It had been known since the spring, when organizers first posted details about their intentions to host a revival event at the CUplex.
The plan was for an event marking 70 years since North Battleford’s first major revival event on Feb. 12, 1948, known as “The Latter Rain Movement of ’48.”
Directors with the Battlefords Chamber of Commerce were made aware at their regular director’s meeting in March. One of their directors reported that 10 days of revival activities were planned for Nov. 1 to 10, with 2,000 people expected to attend.
Since then, details have emerged about the organization spearheading the event: Harvest Ministries International of Kelowna, B.C., whose website is www.theharvest.ca. The principals are Art and Heather Lucier, who lead the Kelowna Harvest Fellowship. Before, they were senior pastors of The Harvest in Kitimat, B.C., which is also part of their church network.
Art Lucier identifies as Métis, and his ministry includes a strong Indigenous component and message. He is also a primary organizer for the North Battleford revival.
The North Battleford event is billed “Battle For Canada,” with details found at battleforcanada.com. The website describes the event as “an unprecedented worship and unity gathering, young and old, First Peoples and all denominations as we call upon God for these 10 days.”
They also make reference to political and cultural issues.
“Since the inception of Canada, there has never been a greater need to sound the alarm regarding our perilous future. If we do not change course, the coming darkness will be profound,” they stated. “Governmental corruption, staggering debt, a lack of abortion laws and a war for our children and their identity all point to a much-needed trumpet call.”
It is that message that prompted some local opposition. One person voicing concern was local lawyer and field house user, Rob Feist.
“The deeper I dove into the people and groups behind the event, the less I liked,” Feist stated in a Facebook post.
“Most of the ‘ministers’ who are coming have open Facebook pages, with heavy pro-Trump, pro-Republican content. Themes completely opposed to Canada's Charter of Rights abound, and anti-gay, anti-trans, anti-abortion ideals are everywhere. There seems to be a push in coming to the Battlefords to pull Indigenous people toward the group's hard right ideals with ‘reconciliation’ type themes — these politics-disguised-as-religion groups seem to see Indigenous communities as major growth markets. They don't discriminate — they will let anyone pay the $99 worship fee!”
While Feist agreed the group had the right to say or do what they liked, he added “that right can be exercised in a church they pay for themselves, and not in a taxpayer-subsidized community recreation venue. I have serious questions about how this group got agreement from the City to rent the field house for an extended period and shut it down for folks who actually pay taxes here.”
At a meeting of the City’s planning committee on Oct. 15, two weeks prior to the revival event, the field house closure was a prime topic of discussion. Councillor Len Taylor sought further information from administration officials about what was happening.
“Some field house people were telling me that coming soon the field house will be closed for two weeks for a private function,” said Taylor.
Taylor then noted that people with “long term or year or seasonal passes for walking, for other things, they use it every day, are quite concerned that they’re going to lose access to their exercise facility for two full weeks.”
Director of Leisure Services Cheryl DeNeire confirmed the two-week closure, and also confirmed the “whole facility has been rented out to Harvest Ministries for their conference.”
DeNeire added, “all users and members are getting extensions on their time on their memberships. They’re not going to lose … they’re going to get an extension.”
She also explained their original plan had been for the field house to close for three weeks in September.
“They didn’t close in September, we are closed for two weeks in November. So it’s a tradeoff between the two to assist with revenue and to assist with efficiencies.”
Mayor Ryan Bater further explained that event organizers “originally requested the Civic Centre, that’s how many people they have planned to come. But we had said no to that because we are hosting the Grand Slam of Curling in January. That is going to take the Civic Centre out of schedule for users for that period of time, and we could not afford another two weeks on top of that.”
“They chose the CUplex. They claim to be able to fill it with people,” said Bater.
Councillor Don Buglas wondered if the Don Ross gym could be made available to users during that period for walking. “Just an idea,” he said.
Taylor didn’t think that could work. He noted there was combined programming at the field house that couldn’t be moved to the Don Ross.
“You just can’t reproduce and organize all that up,” Taylor said. “The people who talked to me, they walk for an hour, they play pickleball for an hour and a half. They combine physical activities there. They make good use of that facility.”
While primarily used for sports, the field house has hosted trade shows in the past. Those include the “Battlefords Best” event by the Battlefords Chamber of Commerce, as well as the annual “Try-a-Trade” interactive career fair. But those bookings were for relatively short periods of time of no more than a few days.
As for the “Battle For Canada,” photos on Facebook from event organizers indicate the field house is being well used for their 10 days of meetings.
Pictures from the venue show the soccer pitch has made way for a sound stage and rows of chairs. Tables and chairs have been set up on the volleyball/basketball courts as well.
Those attending, had the option of staying for as few as one or two days instead of for the entire length of the event.