The love and freedom of being on the water is part of what the Fraser Valley Rowing Club is built on.
But this past November that love literally overflowed into the FVRC’s clubhouse, which is located almost directly across from the Barrowtown Pump Station in east Abbotsford.
Members could do nothing but watch and hope for the best as waters continued to rise. At one point the FVRC’s two boathouses were half-filled with water and the damage was vast.
Boats were totalled, coach boat motors were waterlogged, years of programs and lessons plans were destroyed and safety equipment was mouldy.
For new FVRC president Emily Kivinen, watching news coverage of the flood was both gripping and frightening.
“Anytime there were photos released I would be trying to zoom in and figure out what was still there,” she said. “And then it was starting to creep up and then you could see our dock was no longer visible.”
She said when the city of Abbotsford sent out an alert that the Barrowtown Pump Station was going to fail it was basically a death knell for the club. However, the station recovered and all was not lost - but the damage was significant.
“When we were finally allowed to go in and survey the damage we didn’t know what to expect but it was an absolute mess,” she said. “It took hours and hours and lots of manpower just to clean away all the garbage and debris.”
The rebuilding began shortly thereafter, but the devastation lingers. Kivinen wants to ride the wave of rebuilding and grow membership in the club. She said witnessing the damage firsthand was sobering for all members.
She explained the club stores boats on racks and those on the higher racks were OK. The ones that happened to be stored lower were completely trashed.
“The bottom two racks were floating and just banging against each other for months,” she said. “Then when it got cold, what they suspect happened was the water froze inside the boat. Once it thawed out, essentially the boats were like wet toilet paper rolls – that’s not a good recipe.”
The challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic also made things difficult for the FVRC. Members had been rowing in smaller boats and on their own because of restrictions on group activities and this summer would have been the first time in years that rowers could ride the waters together.
“We really want to get our community back together,” Kivinen said. “To row in boat together was part of our return to rowing plan. We were desperate to get our community back together and rebuild. We’re literally starting from scratch.”
To help get the club back a GoFundMe has been launched to help replace and fix damaged equipment and rebuild the clubhouse. But she also wants more people to be aware of the FVRC and grow membership.
Kivinen, who has lived in Abbotsford for the past decade, has had a lifelong passion for rowing. She grew up in St. Catharines, Ont., which is known as a hot spot for the sport in Canada. She said the sport is great exercise, encourages teamwork and can be very calming.
“What I love most about it is that it’s super quiet,” she said. “Along the Sumas Canal it can get so quiet that all you hear is your blades going through the water. Especially when you’re in a boat with other people and everyone is in sync and all you hear is the sound of the oars cutting through the water – it’s amazing.”
She said she’s surprised the sport isn’t more popular in B.C., as many of our bodies of water are extremely beautiful.
“You can learn to row, you can row competitively or just if you love the outdoors and being active it’s a really great sport – but I might be biased,” she said, laughing.
Kivinen has also been working with 2020 Olympic gold medallist Lisa Roman on how to build and grow the club. The Langley resident, who is also a UFV Cascades hall of famer, has been working with the FVRC to get the word out. Many FVRC members have had to go to Fort Langley to row as the club rebuilt.
The FVRC offers Learn to Row, Juniors and Masters programs and Kivinen said new members are wanted and encouraged. They hope to return to water later this month or in early-June.
“We want the community to know that we’re here,” she said. “And if they want to row, reach out to us. Or if they have anything that they could possibly offer to help us rebuild.”
For more information on the FVRC, visit fraservalleyrowing.com. For the GoFundMe, visit gofundme.com/f/help-rebuild-fraser-valley-rowing-club.