Rowing Canada is making progress in moving its programs to Quamichan Lake in North Cowichan. (Kevin Rothbauer/Citizen)

Rowing Canada is making progress in moving its programs to Quamichan Lake in North Cowichan. (Kevin Rothbauer/Citizen)

Rowing Canada making progress in move to Quamichan Lake

Lake has been ‘invaluable’ in preparation for Tokyo Olympics

Rowing Canada is getting closer to making Quamichan Lake its long-term home.

The sport’s national governing body made a commitment in early 2019 to moving to North Cowichan. There have been some delays in the process — not the least being the COVID-19 pandemic — but they are making “concentric circles” toward the ultimate goal of a permanent base on Quamichan Lake, according to Rowing Canada CEO Terry Dillon.

Some temporary infrastructure has been installed at the lakeshore on the Duncan Community Lodge property, and Rowing Canada has had discussions with neighbours recently about their thoughts and concerns regarding the program.

The group training regularly on the lake right now is aiming for the next Olympic cycle, while athletes heading to this year’s Games also make frequent trips to North Cowichan.

“With the Olympics [in Tokyo] delayed for 2020, it was important for us to contine to evaluate the program for Paris 2024,” Dillon explained. “So this is year one for the Paris group, and year five for Tokyo.

“There’s a small group there all the time, and the larger group comes up [from Victoria] once a month. That might get more frequent as we get closer to the Games.”

Quamichan Lake is being used for simulations and selection races for the Tokyo group, while Shawnigan Lake is also used for long-distance training.

“I would say pretty much every decision about the team going to Tokyo has been made on [Quamichan Lake]. It’s been invaluable.”

READ MORE: Quamichan Lake a key part of Olympic prep

Typically, the World Championships aren’t scheduled for Olympic years, but this isn’t a typical Olympic year, so there will be World Championships in Shanghai this fall, following the Olympics in July and August. The Paris group will be the basis of Canada’s delegation in Shanghai.

Rowing Canada has erected a temporary aluminum boathouse structure next to the lake, and a couple of portables for changing and shower facilities will go into the old ballpark next to the lodge. An extension has also been added to the existing dock. North Cowichan helped clear access for athletes, including para-athletes, to navigate the property.

Most rowing activity on Quamichan Lake has been based out of Art Mann Park, but Rowing Canada hopes to locate their facilities at the lodge propert.

“The Duncan Lodge site has always been our preferred site,” Dillon said. “But it just wasn’t always available.”

Rowing Canada has a two-year lease at the lodge now, with the potential to extend it, and they are in conversations about what a more permanent location might look like. They are still open to going back to Art Mann Park if the lodge doesn’t work out, Dillon said.

Dillon also said that Rowing Canada is in conversations with Cowichan Tribes about building a relationship.

“From a First Nations perspective, we recognize we are moving into space on unceded land,” he explained. “To have a relationship with the First Nations community is important.”

In other nations with Indigenous populations, there is often more of a connection between the Indigenous people and sports, Dillon noted, pointing to the New Zealand rugby team’s performances of the Maori haka prior to each match as an example.

“We don’t have that with Canadian sport. For us, it would be amazing if we could build a home for Rowing Canada and connect with that heritage. This is a big opportunity.”

With regard to the immediate neighbours around the Duncan Community Lodge, Dillon described the dialogue as “very positive.” They are getting the questions they expected regarding traffic flow, parking and noise, but there are also concerns about lake access. Dillon emphasized that Rowing Canada is not seeking exclusive access to the lake.

“We have a long history of making arrangements with stakeholder groups so we don’t bump into each other on the water,” he said.

He acknowledged that the lake will probably become more popular with recreational users once the algae concerns are cleared up, something Rowing Canada is involved in addressing along with North Cowichan.

“Overall, it’s our hope that we can be part of building momentum around solving the issues facing Quamichan Lake,” Dillon said.

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