Rowing club needs to get feds on board: Corrigan

Members of the Canadian national rowing team worked out on Burnaby Lake in July en route to the 2012 London Olympics. - MARIO BARTEL/NEWSLEADER FILE
Members of the Canadian national rowing team worked out on Burnaby Lake in July en route to the 2012 London Olympics.

With the $22-million dredging complete, increasing Burnaby Lake's ability to host regattas, the Burnaby Lake Rowing Club is looking at improvements to the facility.

But Mayor Derek Corrigan cautioned a delegation from the group, at a recent council meeting, not to propose anything that might have adverse environmental impacts, or which would not involve financial support from the federal government.

"Burnaby Lake is a gem for rowing and kayaking and water sports. It's a gem that you folks have uncovered as a result of the dredging," Peter Klinkow of the rowing club told council. "Now is theme for us to polish up that gem and tell the world about it."

Organized rowing started on the lake in the 1930s and was highlighted by its use during the 1973 Canada Summer Games. The last major competition held there was in 1989 as it started to get filled in by sediment.

It is currently used by the Burnaby Lake Rowing Club, Burnaby Canoe and Kayak Club, the Rowing Canada's National Development Centre, and the Simon Fraser University Rowing Club.

Over the years the lake has been home to over 50 Olympic and world champions in rowing and paddling, Klinkow said.

By the end of the year the lake will have hosted several competitions, and the rowing club hopes to increase its ability to do that.

When it hosted the Cascadia Masters regatta, it saw 425 competitors, half of them from the U.S., come to Burnaby, he said. The event saw almost double the number of rowers it had previously because the rowing community had heard about the lake post-dredging and wanted to check it out.

The club aims to help draw sports tourism to Burnaby, leveraging the city's investment in the lake, and to start up learn-to-row programs with local schools, he said.

"At the end of the day we are the only venue of this type in Canada."

Klinkow said the club was looking for the city's support and expertise in identifying and soliciting corporate and other funding sources, as well as in developing plans for the facility.

It's looking to add a short dock to allow more boats to be launched for regattas, more storage space for boats, and wheelchair accessibility for the docks so it can start adaptive programs for people with disabilities. It would also like to reconfigure the space to provide more separation between rowers and spectators, to prevent people from accidentally getting hit by the boats—Olympic-sized ones can be 65 feet long—as they're moved down to the docks.

It also needs to replace the grandstands which are, "shall we say, at the bare minimum, a bit tired and eventually will have to come down," Klinkow said.

Corrigan agreed that the lake is ideal for rowing and other water sports, but stressed the importance of its environmental aspects. The money was spent to dredge the lake to ensure it was preserved for the waterfowl and other wildlife that use it as habitat and nesting areas, he said.

"Do not bring ideas to this council that will have any detrimental impact to the ecology of our lake, because that is a non-starter," Corrigan said.

He noted that the city would have liked to have done more comprehensive dredging but was limited by its funding, shared between the city and province, after the federal government chose not to participate.

He gave credit to former premier Gordon Campbell for following through with his commitment to fund $10 million of the project.

And while Ottawa likes to take credit for Olympic programs, Corrigan said, it's absent when it comes time to funding training facilities.

"I challenge you to bring the federal government to the table. If they're not there it's unlikely any of this is going to end up being very successful, even if you can get corporate sponsors and cooperation from the city and provincial participation."

Ottawa must be involved if Burnaby Lake is to become a national training facility.

"The federal government has to see this as worthwhile for us to be able to make it go," Corrigan said.

"And then I think the sky's the limit on how big we can dream and what we can accomplish together. It's just a question of us being able to do it."

Council approved a motion to have city parks and recreation staff have ongoing discussions with the club to look into the feasibility of improvements to the facility.

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