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Centre designed to establish new paddling district in Nanaimo

A rendering by architect Ian Niamath suggest what a new paddling centre on Nanaimo’s waterfront would look like. - Image contributed
A rendering by architect Ian Niamath suggest what a new paddling centre on Nanaimo’s waterfront would look like.
— image credit: Image contributed

A Nanaimo not-for-profit organization is looking to transform the Newcastle Channel into a “paddling district” with construction of a proposed $5.1-million boathouse and paddling centre.

The Nanaimo Boathouse Society will float concepts for a new civic paddling centre to the city’s Parks, Recreation and Culture Commission this week, with hopes of getting early support to move the project ahead.

The proposed two-storey building is overdue for the community’s water sport enthusiasts, according to society president Camela Tang, who says there is currently no place for more than 2,000 registered paddlers to train, socialize and store boats.

The Nanaimo Dragon Boat Festival, for example, has no central home from which to organize its event and during the Nanaimo  Canoe and Kayak Club’s annual Crazy 8 races, people change behind towels in the parking lot because there’s nowhere else for them to go, she said.

The new facility, wedged between the Brechin boat ramp and the Royal Canadian Marine Search and Rescue station, would offer washrooms, training space, retail and an adventure tourism office.

It’s being called the gateway for paddling and adventure tourism and a community meeting place, where people could potentially experience Snuneymuxw cultural tours, fitness programs and guiding certifications. It could also turn the Brechin area into a new paddling district that would revitalize the area, according to the society.

It’s estimated to cost a total $5.1 million to build and stock the boathouse and more than $200,000 a year to operate. A report by the not-for-profit shows it is also expected to spur more than $500,000 in economic benefits.

“This will be a unique centre. There is no other one like it in Western Canada,” said Tang, who sees it providing amenities for a  broad range of disciplines, including para-paddling.

“[A] facility such as this would give Nanaimo such recognition for its waterfront.”

The boathouse society started looking into a new paddling centre over two years ago and in 2013 won funding from Tourism Nanaimo to help launch a $48,000 feasibility study. The next step is getting approval in principle for the proposal so the boathouse society can draft more concrete plans, seek permits and start a fundraising campaign.

Once built, the facility would be turned over to the city for ownership and maintenance. The boathouse society hopes the city will agree to have a non-profit manage the facility, said Tang.

Heiko Behn, chairman of the Nanaimo Dragon Boat Festival, said his group is supportive of the plans. There are 15 dragon boat teams in Nanaimo and “one of the things that prevents them from growth is probably a location for them to call their own,” he said, adding a centre would allow for a place to store boats and train.

“If it got built, we’d certainly utilize it or encourage teams to utilize it,” Behn said.

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