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At a time when gyms are wrestling with vaccination policies for patrons, the founder and chief executive officer of Cambridge Group Inc. Clive Caldwell has decided to have clients prove they are vaccinated.Tijana Martin/The Globe and Mail

Clive Caldwell has a message for those planning to work out and hang out at three of Bay Street’s favourite fitness clubs: Be sure you’re vaccinated.

At a time when gyms are wrestling with vaccination policies for patrons, the founder and chief executive officer of Cambridge Group Inc. – owner of downtown Toronto’s Adelaide Club, Cambridge Club and Toronto Athletic Club – recently told 6,500 members they must show proof they’ve been jabbed to use the facilities.

“Vaxxed means relaxed,” Mr. Caldwell said. “We want members to enjoy a positive, healthy experience in our clubs. We can’t offer that if someone’s worried about contracting COVID.” The former championship squash player said most members responded positively to the vaccination policy, while a handful objected to the club dictating their personal health choices.

Cambridge Group is scheduled to emerge from Companies’ Creditors Arrangement Act (CCAA) proceedings with lenders and landlords at the end of August, after nine months. As part of the restructuring, the company will spend about $250,000 to spruce up its facilities, Mr. Caldwell said. Cambridge Group’s lender is Bank of Nova Scotia , and its landlords are Cadillac Fairview Corp. Ltd. and the real estate arm of Brookfield Asset Management Inc.

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The company plans to reopen its three clubs on Sept. 7, welcoming members for the first time since pandemic lockdowns began in March, 2020. However, Mr. Caldwell said most members are unlikely to return until major downtown businesses, such as banks and law firms, call their employees back to the office. Cambridge Group plans to gradually bring back its workers – the club has more than 300 staff – and Mr. Caldwell said he expects a prepandemic activity level is 18 months away.

Across Canada, most gyms are taking their cues on COVID-19 policies from provincial health authorities, said Sara Hodson, president of the Fitness Industry Council of Canada, which represents more than 6,000 facilities and six million gym members. “The industry’s priority is to service Canadians’ mental, physical and social health needs,” said Ms. Hodson, who is also CEO of the Vancouver-based LIVE WELL Exercise Clinic. She said, “Our advice is to follow provincial guidelines, not to step ahead or get behind.”

More than half of Canadians have given up their gym memberships since the start of the pandemic, and Ms. Hodson said the industry is reeling from employee layoffs and temporary or permanent club closings. To recover, she said: “We need guidelines that are simple and easy for members to follow.”

Some provinces, including Quebec and British Columbia, are adopting vaccination passport programs for public spaces such as gyms, bars and restaurants. In Ontario, several fitness clubs announced mandatory vaccination programs, then dropped them after opposition from members.

The country’s largest gym operator, GoodLife Fitness Centres Inc., says on its website that it “strongly encourages everyone to get vaccinated” before using one of its 450 locations. However, it continues: “Requiring proof of vaccination is not as simple as it sounds – especially for a national business like ours that spans all provinces. It’s an evolving and complex discussion with significant legal and privacy implications.”

In a nod to the provinces that are requiring vaccination passports, GoodLife said: “We’re looking for leadership from the provincial and federal governments to support Canadian businesses in being able to effectively require and assess proof of vaccination.”

Not every fitness club owner embraces vaccinations. A martial arts studio in Kelowna, B.C., Flow Academy, made headlines this spring by refusing to allow patrons to wear masks and turning away potential members who were vaccinated. In an online post, since deleted, Flow Academy’s owner inaccurately characterized mRNA vaccines as dangerous and a liability concern. B.C. health officials shut down the facility in May.

The health and fitness industry has been one of the country’s hardest-hit sectors in the past 18 months. “We are all looking forward to again helping Canadians improve their health and fitness in the months and years to come,” Mr. Caldwell said. “As the pandemic has demonstrated, being fit is the key to a healthy immune system and good health outcomes.”

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