Canada’s best rowers will be training full-time on Quamichan Lake within the next two years, following an announcement on Wednesday that Rowing Canada Aviron will establish a permanent national training centre 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.
Rowing Canada plans to establish a permanent national training centre in the area by October 2020.
“We are delighted to have found such a willing and supportive partner in North Cowichan,” said RCA chief executive officer Terry Dillon. “From our initial conversations, it was clear that they shared our vision for creating a home for our National Team programs. We look forward to working together in the coming months and years.”
Jennifer Walinga, who chaired the selection committee, said North Cowichan was the best fit when held up against the five performance criteria identified by coaches, athletes, alumni, technical experts and other members of the rowing community: year-round training availability; course length; lake size; priority access; and water quality.
“The biggest factor that Elk/Beaver Lake could not meet was priority access,” she said. “It’s a really busy lake,” she said. In other words, Saanich could not offer the kind of access necessary to avoid competing against other users.
A technical report had raised concerns about the ecological state of Elk/Beaver Lake thanks to the frequency of blue-green algae blooms. Walinga acknowledged this report, but said its ecological state was not the decisive factor against Saanich, she said. Quamichan Lake has similar issues that need to be addressed, she said. Other factors worked against Saanich, she said.
North Cowichan, meanwhile, is currently investing in water quality testing at Quamichan Lake by engaging a local biologist and researchers from the BC Institute of Technology to sample water in the lake and develop recommendations for Council’s consideration. The municipality is committed to supporting the health of Quamichan Lake and the people using it.
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.”
—With files from Wolfgang Depner/Saanich News