August 6-21, 2022
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by: Niagara Host Society

Building on Niagara’s Rowing Legacy at Henley Island

Nestled in a quiet corner in the City of St. Catharines lies Martindale Pond and Henley Island.

Maintained by the Canadian Henley Rowing Corporation and supported by the member rowing clubs including St. Catharines Rowing Club, Brock University Rowing Club, Ridley College and Ridley Graduate Boat Club — Henley Island is the home of the world-class Henley Rowing Course.

This venue was built for and has hosted the Royal Canadian Henley Regatta since 1903. Countless national and international champion rowers have trained and competed for glory on this course, including greats like Buffy Williams, Kristen Kit, Jane Tregunno, Kevin Neufeld, Neil Campbell, and Niagara 2022 chairman Doug Hamilton.

As a result, rowing has been woven into Niagara’s fabric for over a century, and the Niagara Region, Niagara 2022 Host Society, City of St Catharines, and the local rowing community saw the potential of the 2022 Canada Summer Games in adding to that legacy, namely with the construction of a brand-new rowing facility on Henley Island.

The motivation behind this legacy project of the 2022 Canada Games was simple. Despite having held regional, provincial, national and international rowing competitions for more than 100 years, the Henley Rowing Course lacked essential off-water training and support facilities that would help it maintain its world-class status.

As such, the new Henley Rowing Centre (HRC), being built by Aquicon and designed by the architectural team of MacLennan Jaunkalns Miller Architects [MJMA] and Raimondo + Associates Architects [RAAI], will feature accessible change rooms, training facilities (with rowing ergometers and other exercise equipment) and event facilities on Henley Island — addressing that critical need for off-water infrastructure. Specifically, this new facility is set to be a fully accessible, multipurpose training and event space with an innovative rooftop solar energy system, designed and installed by Alectra Inc.

“It was always felt that one of the facilities lacking on the island was a training facility, one that people could use to train year-round,” said Bill Schenck, Commissioner of the Canadian Henley Rowing Corporation (CHRC), who oversees the maintenance of Henley Island alongside the aforementioned rowing clubs. “The athletes had to go offsite to different locations to work out in the wintertime. So, this [facility] is definitely going to provide them with that opportunity to stay on the island for training.”

“The Henley Rowing Centre must be seen for its full potential, which takes it well beyond just a training centre,” added Rick Crooker, President of the St. Catharines Rowing Club. “There are three rowing clubs that operate out of Henley Island: our own, Ridley Graduate Boat Club, and Brock University. All of us are in a constant quest for resources and funds to make the island better. So, having a space that could be used to host events and generate new revenue for the island would be an absolutely wonderful thing to have.

“I just don't think that there's going to be a better venue for an event in the Niagara Region than this new facility. I can't think of another place in Niagara that shows better.”

In order for Niagara to once again host international rowing events like the World Rowing Championships, which will be returning to the City of St. Catharines in 2024, the off-water facilities and amenities provided by HRC were sorely needed. Prior to its existence, there was nowhere to train on the island during inclement weather or the offseason, nor was there access to any kind of facilities that were fully accessible. As such, having previously held the World Rowing Championships in 1970 and 1999, St. Catharines was eager to host this event again but knew they would need some additional firepower to do so.

“It's not something every community can do that has a rowing course. A course has to meet international standards, and that's a mark of what the Henley Course is all about,” declared Crooker. “To have a facility like [the Henley Rowing Centre] on the island, you can't go far enough in saying just what an enhancement it will be to grow the sport of rowing.”

“[A new building] had been in the works, but until the Canada Summer Games came along, the reality of it coming to fruition was only made possible through that [facility] being earmarked by Niagara Region as one of the legacy projects of the 2022 Canada Games,” said Schenck.

Major events like the Canada Games provide opportunities for improvements to take place to existing facilities and new builds to be left behind, which help enrich the communities that are fortunate enough to host them. Henley Island in Port Dalhousie has benefited from this opportunity on a number of occasions, including the Toronto 2015 Pan American Games, which served as the catalyst for the construction of a new bridge connecting the mainland to the island.

However, the latest addition to Henley Island might distinguish itself from its predecessors thanks in large part to the sustainable and high-efficiency design of HRC. Specifically, this new rowing centre will minimize energy consumption by featuring on-site generation from a solar-powered system that will produce enough renewable energy to support the entire facility —something that was only made possible thanks to Niagara 2022’s Official Energy Supplier, Alectra Inc., who built and installed the facility’s cutting-edge electrical system.

“We at Alectra believe in sustainability, dealing with both the people, planet and performance,” said Dan Pastoric, Vice-President of Strategic Growth and Special Projects at Alectra. “We announced [in May 2021] that Alectra’s going net-zero, and anything that helps in that vein, especially in our communities, is something that we are proud to support.”

“[Alectra’s] role is to bring this technology to the roof of the facility such that it will produce electricity to offset its own consumption,” added Natalie McLauchlin, Vice-President of Organizational Improvement at Alectra.

As McLauchlin hints at, this new rowing centre at Henley Island is set to be net-zero, meaning the amount of electricity consumed by the building is set to equal the amount generated by it. To accomplish this, the HRC’s roof will contain a solar installation (or solar panels) for electricity generation. It will take energy from the sun and transfer it over to Alectra’s electrical grid, which conversely will be powering HRC. Estimated to generate an amount equivalent to the consumption of four-and-a-half average households per year (43,000 kWh), the solar panels on the rowing facility are expected to have a lifespan of 20 years, which will benefit not only the facility itself, but the community as well.

“The more distributed energy we can put on the grid, the more reliable and resilient it'll be in the future. So I think that this will benefit not only this facility, but it'll benefit all electricity ratepayers, because in the end, it's going to help keep the cost of electricity as low as possible,” said Peter Bifolchi, Manager, Solar O&M at Alectra Solutions, Alectra’s subsidiary for renewable energy. “It's great that the Niagara 2022 Host Society is doing this because it is kind of a high-profile building, it will be seen during the Canada Summer Games, and I think any demonstration that shows renewable energy can be a workable solution is good for everybody.”

“I would say that this rowing centre on Henley Island is on the leading edge, and I think it is becoming more of the norm,” added Pastoric. “This is blazing new trails, and it will really start to show others that they can do it too.”

HRC’s sustainable design will also play a critical role in securing future events at the Henley Rowing Course, given the increasing importance of sustainability in the bidding process for major international events like the World Rowing Championships. 

“World Rowing is always looking at green initiatives, and so with this facility being a net-zero building, that's a big plus for everyone,” affirmed Schenck, who is also volunteering with the 2022 Canada Games as the event’s rowing lead. “Having a net-zero building definitely plays into what World Rowing is trying to conceive around the world, and it is part of the criteria for selection of the events.

“If you look at [World Rowing’s] website, it's all about green initiatives and what they can do to reduce the carbon footprint and to make it more environmentally friendly.”

Accessibility is another important factor in HRC’s equation. Henley Island previously lacked accessible features for para athletes, as such making facilities like this rowing facility more equitable was a goal for everyone involved. “I think now that we will have [new accessible facilities] this will be a game changer for para athletes,” said Schenck. “With the new building and the design, we made sure we incorporated [accessibility] into everything. Instead of having to use portables, now there's a permanent facility for para athletes to be able to use.”

Part of St. Catharines bid for the 2024 World Rowing Championships was built on the construction of HRC and the accessible amenities that will be coming along with it. There’s no doubt that the latter was a big reason why these World Championships, which see para rowers participate alongside able-bodied athletes, will soon be returning to its rightful place in the Niagara Region.

Ultimately, this new rowing centre is going to be a legacy facility born out of the 2022 Canada Games that will not only enrich the experience of Niagara’s local rowing community, but it will do so for rowers from across Canada and around the world who will train or compete on the prestigious Henley Rowing Course.

Interested in more articles like this one? Sign up for our N22 Action Newsletter to receive alumni stories, updates about Niagara 2022, and to learn about opportunities on how you can get involved with Canada's largest multi-sport competition

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