Origins of the Reh-Fit Centre
Dr. David Mymin was a driving force in establishing the Reh-Fit Centre and served as its first Medical Director when the Centre opened in 1979. Here he offers a brief look at the origin of the Centre and names many of the people who helped make it a reality.
The Reh-Fit Centre had its beginnings in a stress test laboratory that operated in the early 70s in “C” Wing at St. Boniface General Hospital.
It was a small laboratory, no more than 250 square feet, with a treadmill for running the stress tests we used to diagnose heart problems.
My patients began turning up for workouts on the treadmill, to get in shape following their heart attacks. As word of the importance of exercise spread through the hospital, others arrived at the lab. They understood, intuitively, that the key to recovery was exercise, not bed rest, which in those days was the standard for many in the medical profession.
We were running the same operation as what would eventually become the Cardiac Rehabilitation program when the Reh-Fit Centre was built, but on a smaller scale.
Chiefly involved with me at the time was Don Watts, the technologist who ran the cardiology test lab. Don was a keen exercise enthusiast and extremely helpful and involved over the years, especially as a volunteer trainer.
Soon the treadmill was going all the time, with up to 30 people coming in to exercise on it between the regularly scheduled stress tests we ran. We needed more room.
In 1975, through John McDiarmid, the then Dean of Physical Education at the University of Manitoba, we were offered the use of the University’s underground track, nicknamed the “Gritty Grotto,” and the program moved there.
We managed to find the funding to recruit Ed Jakobsen, a physical education graduate who was a good athlete and champion swimmer. He was hired to run the now expanded program, which gradually became known as the Reh-Fit program, a name that I believe Ed can be credited with inventing.
Membership in the Reh-Fit Program increased exponentially, with coronary patients being keen to join. These were mostly my own patients, although several others were referred by my colleagues, especially Dr. Brian Ayotte.
The spirit and camaraderie at the Gritty Grotto were great, with the Reh-Fit people walking and running alongside the athletes and students, but the facility was crowded and very dusty. For the second time, it was clear that the program needed a bigger facility.
Ed Jakobsen and I started to work towards establishing our own independent facility, along with Aubrey Boulter, a professional engineer who was one of the original Gritty Grotto participants. Aubrey was a tower of strength who gave freely of his time, made available the facilities of his company for us to meet, and worked tirelessly as an organizer, fundraiser, and recruiter of volunteers. Without him, the Centre would never have been built.
In those days there were numerous volunteers, all of whose names I cannot possibly remember now, but the chief ones that stick in my memory are Garth Garside, Leo Rosenberg, Joe Margulius, John Buchanan, David Rothstein, and Wilf Juravsky.
Leo Rosenberg and his wife, Claire, knew some of the members of the Kinsmen Club of Winnipeg, and put us in touch with them as possible donors. The Kinsmen were great and pledged $300,000 towards a new centre. With their pledge, we went to the City of Winnipeg where Aubrey Boulter had contacts on the Finance Committee through Don Gerrie, a city councilor. Following meetings with the committee, we secured a pledge from the City for a grant of land at the Taylor Avenue site. We then met with the Winnipeg Foundation, which agreed to contribute $75,000.
Next we contacted the Government of Manitoba and requested a grant of $250,000. They showed some interest but were not prepared to make a commitment, mainly because they were not happy with the Taylor Avenue site.
In 1977, we again approached the Government of Manitoba for funding. Don Craik, who was the Minister of Finance (and happened to be a member of the Gritty Grotto Reh-Fit), was extremely sympathetic and helped win over the government to our cause. The Minister of Health, Louis (Bud) Sherman, was also very helpful and supportive. The government soon confirmed its commitment of $250,000 towards a new centre, and in consultation with the City of Winnipeg, confirmed that our new location would be at the Taylor Avenue site.
We then had architectural plans drawn up and a building plan developed. The cost of the building was $1.2 million—about twice as much as the pledges and commitments we had received. To make up the shortfall we approached Great West Life. With the help of several members of the Kinsmen Club, we negotiated with Great West Life and were offered a mortgage at a very reasonable rate.
The building cost only $1.2 million thanks to the efforts of many people. The architect, Morley Blankstein, gave his services for next to nothing. Aubrey Boulter insisted on the clear-span concept for the field house, giving it its open spacious quality. To achieve this, special steel beams were designed and supplied through a sweetheart deal that Aubrey was able to make through his contacts in the steel industry. Jack Levit, who owned a construction company, was another sympathetic supporter whose firm did much of the construction at a greatly reduced rate. Mr. Wilf Juravsky, a lawyer and one of our Gritty Grotto Reh-Fit members, provided his services free in the various legal phases of the project, in incorporating the centre as a not-for-profit corporation, and in establishing the governance structure.
In the spring of 1979 the Reh-Fit Centre was finally completed. With great ceremony we moved from the Gritty Grotto to our beautiful new field house.
The facility accepted cardiac rehabilitation Reh-Fits and, to make it a going concern, non-cardiac Pre-Fits, as the fitness-seeking population was called in those days. Programs for both categories had to be developed and staff recruited and trained. The Pre-Fit program was particularly challenging, since it was a new concept.
Floyd Johnson did very valuable work in this phase of our history. A physical education graduate, he supervised set-up operations and hired staff as our first General Manager.
We also had a great deal of volunteer help from our members, under the leadership of Garth Garside, in setting up the facility for operation. The volunteers not only contributed to our capital fund but also did all the work of setting up the equipment, furniture, and various installations.
Shortly after start-up, we received advice and guidance from Barney Martin, a local businessman and friend. Through him we made the acquaintance of Jack Johnstone, an ordained priest of the Anglican Church and previous director of the Hugh John MacDonald organization. In November 1979, Jack was appointed General Manager of the Reh-Fit Centre and served in the position until September 1982.
Meanwhile, I was able to negotiate arrangements with Manitoba Health (then the Manitoba Health Services Commission) for funding support of the Reh-Fit Program and an agreement on fee-for-service claims.
Today, the Reh-Fit is a great community health and fitness centre that continues to exercise vigilance in offering the community the best possible facility, equipment, programs, and staff. Its success is a testimony to the visionary thinking of those who saw the need for a place like the Centre, and had the determination, dedication, and persistence to work together to make it a reality.