By Gordie Sutherland, Editor
Two world championships in 29 days.
That’s the unique hosting schedule that lies ahead this summer in Nova Scotia as the best paddlers and sailors on the planet come to our waters.
The action begins Aug. 3 with the 2022 ICF Canoe Sprint and Paracanoe World Championships on Lake Banook and continues Aug. 31 when more than 400 sailors converge on St. Margarets Bay for the world championships in the 49er, 49erFX and Nacra 17 classes.
More than 1,000 athletes and coaches from 70 countries will compete at Canoe ’22 in Dartmouth, which although recognized as a high-performance hub has only hosted two other senior world championships in the European-dominated sport.
The six days of racing in St. Margarets Bay will make history. It’s the first time this sailing world championship, featuring three Olympic classes, has been held in Canada.
“Coming out of COVID, it’s like a celebration when you look at the canoe-kayak (event), then you look at our world championship, then you look at the world junior hockey” in December, says John Flemming, co-chairman of the host society for sailing worlds.
“It’s our coming out party. People are excited. They want to get behind something that’s going to be local, in person.”
The athletes’ perspective
Olympian Michelle Russell of Fall River is in her last year of racing and plans to make the worlds in Dartmouth her swan song.
Russell started racing on Lake Banook when she was 14 and will be 30 at the time of worlds.
“A lot of people probably don’t realize the rarity of the opportunity,” says Russell, an elite force in the K-1 and K-2 500m. “We’ve only had worlds, like, twice before here.
“So people probably don’t realize the opportunity exists to see this high-calibre, high-quality paddling on Lake Banook, even though Lake Banook is associated highly with paddling.”
Sisters Antonia and Georgia Lewin-LaFrance are literally the poster people for the world championships in St. Margarets Bay. They live in nearby Chester and have already earned international success racing in the 49erFX class.
The sisters placed sixth at last year’s worlds in Oman.
Antonia says St. Margarets Bay is a “wonderful place to sail” with consistently fantastic conditions.
“I’m really looking forward to seeing the fleet here,” Antonia says. “It’s a little bit surreal to me. It feels like we’ve always had to travel to them. It’s going to be really cool to have them come to us this time.”
A spark for sport development
National sailing team training camps will be coming to St. Margarets Bay for years to come as a direct result of conditions attached to hosting worlds.
“That’s going to be a benefit not just for the sisters but for all of the young sailors here,” says Frank Denis, the executive director at Sail Nova Scotia.
“It will give them some exciting opportunities to get out there and see them and even compete and train with them.”
Legacy funding is common from hosting major events. At least $500,000 will be earmarked to support canoe-kayak athletes in their future training, says Stephen Gallant, vice-chairman of the Canoe ’22 host society.
While harder to measure, both championships will undoubtedly inspire youth to get out on the water to try sailing or paddling, or possibly pursue it at the elite level.
Mark James was six years old when the senior worlds came to Dartmouth for the first time in 1997. When the event returned 12 years later, James was deeply involved in high-performance canoe-kayak.
In his job as technical director for the Atlantic Division of Canoe Kayak Canada (ADCKC), he has insight into how current paddlers have been motivated by past events.
“That kind of level of competition is kind of far from mind when you’re going out playing with your friends at 12 or 14 years old but then suddenly you see that and it can spark something inside of you that you perhaps didn’t know was there,” James says.
Denis says seeing these events up close delivers a clear message about what can be achieved in Nova Scotia.
“There’s no reason for them to have to move away if they want to compete and train here and succeed at the international level like the sisters have done, like Paul Tingley has done, like other sailors before them have done.”
The physical legacy
Anyone who has ever visited Lake Banook has witnessed the infrastructure that exists because of major events.
The iconic judges tower, for example, is from the 1989 junior worlds.
More improvements are on the way because of Canoe ’22, including a remodelling of the judges tower and upgrades to the Atlantic Division Racing Centre.
All five docks in front of the tower have been replaced, 800 new buoys will be on the course, technological infrastructure will be updated and Silvers Hill has been revitalized and made more spectator-friendly.
“We’re looking at improvements in every area,” Gallant says.
All three levels of government and private sponsors jumped in with support for both world championships.
Securing the sailing worlds in St. Margarets Bay has triggered close to $1.5 million in much-needed infrastructure investment.
The work includes everything from upgrades in floating docks and ramps to an improved, accessible wharf on the Hubbards community waterfront, which will serve as a centre for the event.
“We’re able to do these infrastructure upgrades that are going to last forever,” Flemming said. “This is a public, accessible spot. The Hubbards waterfront is not a private club or a private area. It’s open to the public 24-7, 365 days a year.
“This is going to really allow us to really showcase and help the community.”
The Hubbards and St. Margaret sailing clubs also benefited from improvements directly linked to hosting worlds.
“It’s not just the event. It’s what we’re leaving,” Flemming says.