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Sawmill employee sets up gym for local community

On the second floor of the Chipman Centennial Arena in Chipman, NB, Oleksandr Shkolnik surveys the results of his passion project: a collection of treadmills, stationary bikes, bars, a rowing machine and elliptical that makes up the newly opened Lake Side Gym.

It’s the first gym in decades for the small community. For Ukrainian newcomer Oleksandr, it marks the culmination of a dream now almost a year in the making.

Oleksandr, a trainer at the Grand Lake Timber sawmill, moved to Chipman from Ukraine with his family in 2021 to take a job at the mill. He soon saw a need in the community for more indoor recreational activities. The village didn’t have a gym, so Oleksandr and his wife Veronika decided to start their own.

Oleksandr is one of 84 newcomers who’ve settled in Chipman to work in J.D. Irving, Limited’s Sawmill and Woodlands divisions since 2017. The company invests in supports like language training, education and transportation for newcomers and has worked with the Chipman Housing Authority to build mini homes and town houses for newcomers. 

Filling a recreation gap in the village was something Oleksandr felt he could take on to give back to his new community.

“It’s good that people have jobs here. It’s good they have a place to live, but another thing they need is recreation,” Oleksandr said. “They need somewhere to spend their free time.”

All in, the process to set up the gym took about a year for Oleksandr, who worked with the municipality to secure a space and then bought the equipment.

The gym was soft launched at the start of March and held a grand opening on April 18. Since then, there’s been a rise in membership among mill employees and especially local community members. 

Oleksandr himself attends the gym every day and said he finds it to be a place for friends to socialize and catch up while improving their health. Moving forward, Oleksandr plans to introduce fitness classes.

“I can just see that a lot of people are coming here just for fun, just to talk and walk on the treadmill,” he said, noting he sees the gym as important to the village’s vitality. 

“If we have more places like this, it will probably bring more people to the community.”