Home > Profiles

Climbing Gyms Need Our Support, Not Hate Over Vaccine Passports

Some gyms have received hateful messages as they work to keep the doors open for their local communities

Photo by: Brandon Pullan at Joe Rockhead's fall 2021

As we head into fall 2021, with 18 months of the Covid pandemic behind us and possibly a lot more to go, us climbers need to rally behind our local climbing gyms more than ever. With some provinces mandating that people entering gyms, restaurants and other non-essential businesses be fully vaccinated, some indoor climbing facilities are reporting harassment and cancellations of memberships.

We reached out to a number of climbing gyms in Canada, with most kindly declining the option to take part in this story, but a few filled us in on how things are going.

Luigi Montilla, the owner of Ontario’s Up the Bloc and co-owner of Joe Rockhead’s, told us, “We’ve been happy with the reopening so far and with the vaccine passport rollout it will keep everyone that works and climbs at the gym safer. We’ve been lucky, so far the majority have been supportive of the vaccine passport, and we haven’t received any negative or harassing emails.”

This summer, we reported that True North in Toronto was getting a lot of backlash from the public and users for announcing all members would need to show a vaccine passport to climb in their space, a rule they put in place before Ontario said everyone in a non-essential business must have one.

Owner John Gross told us, “I think it reduces the risk of those in the gym if we make sure that everyone is vaccinated. It doesn’t eliminate the risk, but requiring vaccination, I believe, reduces the risk to those in the gym substantially. I also hope it provides incentive for people to get vaccinated. When Quebec announced its policy, the vaccination rate doubled overnight.”

Barrie gym bullied over vaccine passports

One of the most distressing situations that we’ve heard of was from Alt. Rock in Barrie, Ont., where owner Michael Moore told us, “Since announcing our implementation of the Ontario government’s vaccine passport, we’ve experienced a glut of hateful emails. The newsletter, in the form of an email, seems to have been shared with like-minded people, most of whom do not frequent our facility. The responses are pointed, accusatory – sometimes vulgar – messages, almost all expressing that our business is ‘discriminating’ against a group of people. The intent of the emails are all very similar: an attempt at bullying us into asserting their political will.”

The email, which informed members how to access and download a vaccine passport and said, “As of Sept. 22, 2021, the Ontario government will require people to be fully vaccinated (two doses plus 14 days) and provide proof of their vaccination status along with photo ID to access indoor areas of facilities used for sports and recreational fitness activities, including fitness/sporting/recreational facilities. Alt. Rock falls under this classification.”

As of last week, Alt. Rock had over 200 memberships on freeze for various reasons related to the pandemic, a measure which they’ve kept in place because, “memberships are the foundation of our business.” Moore said that the frozen memberships amount to an enormous loss for their business.

Following the provincial vaccine passport law is not an option for Ontario businesses, and if any gym was found not complying, they could be charged under Part I of the Provincial Offences Act (POA), with a set fine amounts of $750 for individuals and $1,000 for corporations. Maximum penalties include fines of up to $100,000 and up to a year in jail for an individual; up to $500,000 and up to a year in jail for an individual who is a director or officer of a corporation; and up to $10 million for a corporation. No business in Ontario in their right mind will risk those fines.

Climbing gyms are our community centres

Climbing gyms are more than places where we go to train, they’ve become community centres for our sport. In at fall 2020 article by Noah Walker, he spoke to a number of climbers and gym owners.

True North routesetter Alex Kuusela told us, “I think if you don’t have a sense of community, if you aren’t participating in other extracurricular activities, climbing becomes a place where you make connections. It becomes a safe space. You go in, and you know that you are in your own crowd of people. I think that is one of the most special aspects of climbing: those positive relationships within the community.”

Like many climbing gyms in Canada, Alt. Rock is a family run business that was hit hard by the pandemic, and, as Moore told us, “Only survived because we (my wife and I) have continued to work other jobs to support our family. We have not paid ourselves a cent since we opened, and have worked extremely hard to keep the doors of Alt. Rock open as a community service to those who enjoy the sport of climbing.”

If you have a problem with vaccine passports, or any public health measure, then take it up with your local government, not the climbing gym or any other local business. His email to the members of Alt. Rock informing them about the vaccine passport rules, concluded with “thank you for your understanding and patience.”

We encourage climbers to support climbing gyms now more than ever, whether they agree with the reasons behind governments mandating vaccine passports or not.

Lead photo: Brandon Pullan at Joe Rockhead's fall 2021