The Long Lake Paddling and Rowing Centre and related park and playground improvements have been added to Nanaimo’s draft 2022-2026 financial plan.
City council voted to include the project despite objections by Coun. Don Bonner at the Monday, June 7, council meeting.
Bonner previously voiced his objection to the style of the building, saying at a prior council meeting that the building looked like an “Asian temple” instead of a structure with Indigenous styling to house canoes. He said partnerships should have been struck with First Nations groups and organizations that could help pay for construction of the facility with money from the B.C. and federal governments.
Bonner restated his arguments against the project at Monday’s meeting and also repeated his objection to the architectural style of the proposed structure.
“As an Indigenous member of council, I’m opposed to this concept because there’s nothing Indigenous about it and I think we should not be building a house for canoes without some sort of Indigenous thing and, just to make the point, on Friday my membership card came in for the Sharbot Lake Obaadjiwan First Nation and the background image is a canoe,” Bonner said.
Bonner said canoes are a critical part of the culture of Indigenous peoples across Canada.
“I would like to see the building built, but I think we don’t need to pay for it with funding from taxpayers here in Nanaimo and that’s why I’m also not voting for it as a council member,” he said.
Coun. Ian Thorpe said he respectfully disagreed with Bonner and that the project was a long overdue civic improvement to a popular recreational facility.
“This is not just about a house for canoes and it’s not simply an Indigenous project, although certainly, Indigenous citizens would be welcome to make use of it,” Thorpe said.
Thorpe went on to say the facilities at Long Lake were built in 1967 and are in dire need of upgrade and replacement. He said improvements to the park and beach access that would benefit paddlers, swimmers, skiers, anglers and others is long overdue and needs to get started instead of waiting for money from other sources.
Thorpe also mentioned there are community partners contributing funds to the project.
Ed Poli, treasurer of Rotary Club of Nanaimo North, confirmed in a phone interview Wednesday, June 9, the club and the Long Lake Flat Water Training Centre Society have each committed a minimum $100,000 over the coming five years to creating the new paddling centre and that the club and society would seek other avenues for grants and other funding sources once the project is underway.
“There are places we can go to seek grants and support … You can’t do that unless you have a definite project that’s happening,” Poli said.
Coun. Sheryl Armstrong was also in favour of moving ahead with the project and said she showed the building design to Snuneymuxw Chief Michael Wyse and council.
“Chief Wyse was very much in favour of this, he very much liked the design,” Armstrong said. “He thought it was reminiscent of a wave, as well as Indigenous cultures, and if you actually look at that design, it’s almost the same as the Squamish Lil’wat Cultural Centre up in Whistler … [Snuneymuxw chief and council] very much liked it and they’re very much hoping that it goes ahead.”
Armstrong said the Advisory Committee on Accessibility and Inclusiveness was also consulted and approved of the project’s planned accessibility upgrades.
“I think this is a really important structure,” Armstrong said. “There’s been nothing built in that area with city dollars for many, many years … it’s an area that very rarely sees any community dollars put into it … and it is an extremely well-utilized park, especially in the summer months.”
The motion to include the project in the 2022-2026 financial plan was carried with Coun. Bonner opposed.