A shrinking Leisure and Culture domain wears down the very fabric of daily life in Saskatchewan. From a position of leading the country in volunteerism to fewer hours spent supporting culture and recreation organizations, less time socializing with friends, and fewer nights away on vacation, people in Saskatchewan have been struggling to retain the valued free time that enriches their lives. This deterioration is a concern because engagement in Leisure and Culture makes a significant contribution to both individual and community wellbeing.
Participation in leisure and culture helps shape our personal, provincial, and national identity. The experiences we have during these times provide a sense of who we are as a people and reinforces our sense of belonging to our community. Time spent with friends enhances our personal networks, our community resiliency, and our overall health. There is some comfort in knowing that participation in physical activity has increased for all age groups over recent years, especially given the challenge of an aging population and increases in chronic diseases such as diabetes and other obesity-related health challenges. Still, more can always be done to ensure greater access to leisure and culture resources for groups that are often marginalized in our communities: women and girls, people living with a disability, people living in low-income, at-risk youth, and LGBTQ2+ people.
An increasing number of dual-income families in the province over the past 40 years has increased median incomes, but is more often a choice of necessity than freeing resources for time in leisure and cultural pursuits. With greater income inequality and additional financial challenges for many people, dual-income families face limited resources, and they have been less able to allocate the time and money needed to take adequate vacations or to spend on culture and recreation. In addition to the challenges faced by individuals and families –and equally worrying –is the decline in volunteers and the hours they commit to public agencies and non-profit organizations responsible for providing leisure and culture programs, services, and facilities. Without these volunteer resources on which they heavily rely, organizations are struggling more to provide the kinds of opportunities when they are most needed.
Despite these challenges, people in Saskatchewan clearly value their leisure time and cultural heritage. In response to a survey on recreation and quality of life conducted by the Saskatchewan Parks and Recreation Association (SPRA), a majority of people (52.2%) said leisure is becoming more important to their quality of life and that they saw their participation and use of both natural resources and built facilities was likely to increase.
Far from being a “frill” that can be trimmed when time or budgets are tight, participation in a community’s cultural life, especially the arts, are enshrined in the United Nations’ Universal Declaration of Human Rights as well as its Declaration of the Rights of the Child. The importance of leisure and culture to wellbeing is reflected in the Canadian Parks and Recreation Association’s Framework for Recreation in Canada 2015: Pathways to Wellbeing, which has been endorsed by the SPRA as well as provincial ministers of sport, physical activity and recreation, and is being implemented at a national, regional, and community level. Globally and nationally, we recognize the importance of leisure and culture, but the action must take place locally.
To ensure that Leisure and Culture is a key component in the lifestyles of the people in Saskatchewan, governments, organizations, and communities must strengthen their capacity to provide meaningful, diverse, accessible and affordable opportunities so that everyone benefits. Communities must celebrate and protect access to Leisure and Culture, especially because the people themselves have identified it as a critical component of their quality of life.