Community Clubs Rowing

HIGH ACHIEVERS: Trillium grant helps Ottawa Rowing Club complete 39-year-old boathouse project

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HIGH ACHIEVERS: Stay-Safe Edition
Keeping Local Sport Spirit High During the Pandemic

By Martin Cleary

There could be quite the celebration at the Ottawa Rowing Club sometime this summer.

Canada’s oldest rowing club, which started in 1867, is in the process of completing a 39-year-old infrastructure project and, if all continues to go well, the renovation and winterization of the second floor of the club’s main boathouse will be finished by mid-summer.

The boathouse plan was revitalized last April with a surprise grant from the Ontario Trillium Foundation. The club, which had been unsuccessful in receiving Trillium grants for the past several years, applied for a Resilient Communities Fund Grant in the winter of 2020-21. The Resilient Communities Fund Grant supports recovery efforts of organizations impacted by COVID-19 and helps them respond with immediate-, medium- and longer-term recovery projects.

The Ottawa Rowing Club has received a Trillium grant of $149,900, which will allow the 155-year-old Ottawa River-based club to be transformed into a year-round venue for training, teaching, coaching and social functions.

“While the grant is a nice bonus, it will only serve to help us complete the boathouse project that was started in 1983 and halted when the construction company contracted by the club went bankrupt and disappeared,” Ottawa Rowing Club head coach Zak Lewis wrote in an email interview. “The boathouse has sat half finished for nearly 40 years and is finally going to be ‘complete’ for the first time.”

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The second-floor renovation will include COVID-19-safe spaces for athlete training on weights, rowing machines and a testing facility as well as washrooms, change rooms, conference rooms, office space and refurbished IT equipment to develop new, remote and virtual coaching programs.

“Now, we can expand from summer-only to year-round programming,” said club president Peter Thompson in a press release.

Traditionally, the club pulls its docks from the Ottawa River in November, shuts its buildings until April and its athletes scatter to find training venues. But by having a winterized second-floor boathouse, athletes and coaches can train throughout the year as a team and the club can introduce winter indoor learn-to-row programs for juniors and adults as well as stage rowing league programs and indoor regattas.

The club also is “exploring the possibility of partnering with the CSI-Ontario (Canadian Sport Institute – Ontario) for regional athletes in other sports to use our facility,” Lewis added.

Ottawa Rowing Club’s Alex Bernst (right) competed at the U23 rowing world championships in 2018. File photo

Besides the athletic side, the club also will be open for social gatherings, meetings and coach and umpire training and development in the off season.

“The winterization of the club will play a huge role in the development of our rowers,” Lewis added. “It will eliminate the need to train offsite during the winter months and will provide a year-round home base for all our training, coaching and team building needs.

“Moreover, it will serve to create a focal point for our community year round. Currently, our programs all split up and go their separate ways during the winter. With a newly renovated and winterized space, we look forward to keeping our community together, better integrated and together more often.”

The clubhouse renovation resumed last June and has seen the roof fully completed with insulation. Electrical breakers have been upgraded to service both boathouses on site. A heating system has been installed and the HVAC work is nearly complete. But work on the change rooms is at a standstill as the club is having a difficult time finding workers to do the job because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

While the Trillium grant has allowed the club to complete an almost four-decade-old project, the money can’t be put towards operating costs.

“The club has been hard hit by COVID with the limitation of ‘team sports’ for so long, we weren’t able to offer any crew/team boats for the entire 2020 summer and the first half of last year,” Lewis wrote. “That coupled with the floods in 2017 and 2019 have left the club a bit short-changed for cash.

“Hopefully, we are through the worst of it all and are on our way to several bountiful years ahead.”

Let the celebration start this summer.

Martin Cleary has written about amateur sports for 49 years. A past Canadian sportswriter of the year and Ottawa Sports Awards Lifetime Achievement in Sport Media honouree, Martin retired from full-time work at the Ottawa Citizen in 2012, but continued to write a bi-weekly “High Achievers” column for the Citizen/Sun.

When the pandemic struck, Martin created the “Stay-Safe Edition” to provide some positive news during tough times, via his Twitter account at first and now here at

Martin can be reached by e-mail at and on Twitter @martincleary.

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