Pandemic impacts on rural recreation in the Yukon Territory
Despite the essential role of recreation in the health and well-being of individuals and communities and the rural nature of Canada, rural recreation has received limited attention from researchers. To address this gap and explore the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on rural communities, researchers from the World Leisure Centre of Excellence at Vancouver Island University and the Recreation & Parks Association of the Yukon investigated pandemic impacts on rural recreation in the Yukon Territory. This study focused on five rural communities with unique governance structures, recreation delivery approaches, and population characteristics. The purpose was to explore pandemic impacts on residents and recreation delivery and how recreation can assist with pandemic recovery. Using a participatory rural appraisal approach, eight modified world cafes were hosted, and 28 key informants were interviewed. This research showed that rural Yukoners preferred to be outdoors and that most of their recreation and physical activity involved outdoor recreation, on-the-land activities, and tasks of daily life (e.g., hauling water or firewood). Engagement in these activities also proved to be more resilient in the face of public health mandates and for those who were vaccine-hesitant. Three strong narratives emerged from the data: (a) recreation funding and programs have been focused on children/youth, (b) physically active recreation has been defined as sports participation, and (c) indoor recreation (e.g., pools and arenas) facilities are necessary infrastructure in all rural communities. In contrast, it was found that (a) most engaged in unstructured outdoor recreation and on-the-land activities, (b) outdoor facilities and infrastructure would meet community needs, (c) communities want programs that promote social connections and wellness, and (d) there is a strong need for physical and social experiences across the lifespan. Outdoor recreation and on-the-land activities are central to the lives of rural Yukoners. They can also be central to the recovery of individuals and communities if decision-makers and funders consider systems-level changes (e.g., reviewing the Recreation Act) and if stakeholders consider broadening the scope of community recreation. Additionally, supporting residents’ capacity to engage in unstructured and self-led recreation across the lifespan would assist with pandemic recovery and developing a more sustainable recreation delivery model in rural Yukon.