One Vancouver Island community’s loss is another’s gain in the wake of yesterday’s announcement by Rowing Canada.
Canada’s best rowers will be training full-time near Duncan within the next two years, following an announcement on Wednesday that Rowing Canada Aviron will establish a permanent national training centre on Quamichan Lake in North Cowichan.
North Cowichan was one of five communities that submitted formal bids for the training centre in September — a list that included Shawnigan Lake and Elk and Beaver lakes in Saanich.
Quamichan Lake is the site of the Maple Bay Rowing Club’s annual spring regatta, hosted rowing events for the 2018 BC Summer Games, and has also been used regularly for Rowing Canada training in the past.
“North Cowichan is extremely pleased to be the new home for Rowing Canada Aviron,” said Mayor Al Siebring. “We are a region of sport, recreation, and love of the outdoors. With its focus on health, sport, and excellence, Rowing Canada is exactly the partner that we want in our community. We know it will be a significant undertaking for Rowing Canada to build a new home, and our community will be with you on that journey.”
The Maple Bay Rowing Club, which has facilities at Maple Bay and at Art Mann Park on Quamichan Lake, is excited about the possibilities that could arise from having the national team based in North Cowichan.
“I think it’s wonderful news for our past, current and future rowers,” MBRC head coach Cheryl Thibodeau said. “Our numbers have been down in the last couple years — on the junior side at least — [and we are] hoping this will give us a little boost. I have always considered us lucky having the team so close on the Island anyways, but to have in our backyard is pretty cool.”
The rowing club shares its facility at Art Mann Park with the Duncan Kinsmen Club, and Thibodeau understood when the process started that both those groups would be incorporated into Rowing Canada’s new facility, although she acknowledged that plans may have changed since then.
The MBRC hosts its annual spring regatta at Quamichan Lake, and that event’s profile should also be boosted by Rowing Canada’s presence, Thibodeau suggested.
“We are hoping our current and future club members will be able to have more opportunities to interact with the national team and their coaches,” she said. “That will be a big benefit to their own development. The Cowichan Valley has produced some amazing athletes and has a strong sense of community, with the valley being more affordable and quieter then the bigger cities, hopefully the team will quickly feel at home.”
Meanwhile, a rowing official from the Victoria area expressed disappointment in the decision by Rowing Canada Aviron to establish its permanent training centre in North Cowichan, but also tried to keep things in perspective.
“We are all disappointed and sad,” said Brenda Taylor, club manager of Victoria City Rowing Club (VCRC) and boat house manager for the Victoria Rowing Society, when asked about the announcement by Rowing Canada Aviron to establish a permanent national training centre in North Cowichan.
VCRC, along with the City of the Langford and Shawnigan Lake, had submitted one of the five bids that made the final list of competitors.
Taylor’s disappointment stems from the long history of Saanich hosting national team athletes in echoing comments from Adam Kreek, who had trained in Saanich on his way to winning to an Olympic Gold medal in 2008 in the most prestigious rowing event, the men’s eight.
But Taylor also said the club understood the process, adding that Rowing Canada will retain a presence.
“It’s not like we are never going to see them again,” she said, noting that national team athletes will continue to practice in Saanich leading up to the 2020 Summer Olympics in Tokyo. They will also have a presence beyond that competition, said Taylor, who expects a lengthy transition.
Jennifer Walinga, who chaired the selection committee, said national team athletes will still be able to train in Saanich during the first two years of an Olympic cycle. Junior national rowers and teams will also continue to have a presence in the region, she said.
The decision in favour of North Cowichan by Rowing Canada Aviron will have an impact on the budget of the boat house that the Victoria Rowing Society operates. Rowing Canada Aviron is one of four partners in the society — the others include VCRC, Greater Victoria Youth Rowing Society, and the University of Victoria — and as such responsible for 25 per cent of revenues generated. Taylor said it is too early to say what sort of financial impact the society will have to absorb.
This said, the closure of one window of opportunity, may open another one, she said.
Elk/Beaver Lake will continue to host high level rowing competitions, as Saanich boasts an “active and dynamic” rowing community that goes beyond Rowing Canada Aviron, she said.