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New building, resources for Onake

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For many community members who grew up paddling, the Onake Paddling Club building, which has proudly stood by the water since 1973, is a second home. 

“As a kid I went to Onake almost every day,” said Jeci Tekentenhawitha Goodleaf. “Then in my high school years I worked there for three or four summers. When I was a little girl I would sit on the back of the war canoe with the women while they and my Ista trained. It was always good memories on the water.”

Despite the decades of good memories, however, the old building has at times been lacking. Right now, the building itself is not accessible for people with disabilities, and there’s a lack of adequate space for boat repairs, food preparation, and storage.

But that won’t be the case for much longer, after Onake manager Sharon Rice announced plans for a new building, funded by Kahnawà:ke Shakotiia’takehnhas Community Services’ child and family services (CFS) program. 

“Every aspect of the new building is very exciting, as we have elements included that will service paddlers and coaches for years to come,” Rice said. “The positive response that we have received from the community is extremely comforting and encouraging as we are excited to offer a building that will accommodate the present and future paddlers in regards to health and fitness related services and activities.”

The project has been approved by KSCS for $3,572,248.82, which has formally been requested in the form of capital funding from Indigenous Services Canada. 

“It’s looking very positive, it’s a pretty exciting opportunity,” said KSCS executive director Derek Montour, who said that KSCS is fully behind the new building plans.

“The whole philosophy and values, the vision and goals of Onake are directly in line with KSCS’ vision and values. Any kind of sport is physical training, which enhances mental and intellectual training, but if anyone has been on the water, they can attest to that spiritual connection too,” he said. 

“More than anything we’re river people. We’ve always been connected to the river, and with the introduction of the Seaway, it’s cut us off a bit,” he said. “So having an investment like this really encourages a greater connection to the water, and helps our youth find that connection. Those are all aspects of our future.”

The new building will allow for programming for families and those with special needs, including completely accessible washrooms, disabled parking spaces, and ramps and elevators in the building. There will also be a gym area for year-round training, satisfying the need for ‘winterized’ facilities. An office area will also be created for staff and volunteers as well as a complete kitchen with healthy food options and storage and workshop areas for repairs and restorations.

“The Onake Organizing Committee is very grateful for this opportunity to increase services and quality programing for families and the community,” Rice said, adding that the present timeline for demolition and construction would commence in the fall and be complete by spring 2025. 

“We’re hoping not to interrupt the summer programming provided by Onake.”

Community members were thrilled to hear the news on Wednesday. 

“I think Onake and the community will benefit greatly from this new building. It will now give our community a place to go year round and not just during the warmer season,” said Goodleaf. 

“My hopes for our future paddlers are to continue keeping their natural connections to the water. So much life comes from being on the water with a good group of people. That’s where you make memories,” she said. 

Onake’s organizing committee, who have been working to forward the plans for a new building, have been touched that the community continues to see paddling as a priority. Community member Terri Thomas, who is a committee member, has been paddling at Onake since 1994 and is the parent of a current junior paddler, said she hopes the expansion will mean even more community members will have access to the sport.

“My hopes are that the new club will draw in a whole new generation of people interested in our sport, and that they love it and the building as much as we do,” she said. 

She emphasized that accessibility has been a priority throughout the process, as the organization seeks to draw in as many community members as possible, serving as a true community space.

“The community, not just Onake, will benefit from the new building. We will be able to offer year round programming & hold meetings and events throughout the year. Our building will be accessible, which is something that it wasn’t before. That means more family support for our athletes, as those in wheelchairs or scooters can come be a part of our events,” she said. “A new building and all new resources and equipment  that comes with it will only help our athletes and our community level up.”

More information about the design and construction of the new building will be released in the coming weeks and months, and the new building will be constructed in the exact same location as the current Onake building following its demolition. 

“It’s going to be sad to see the old building gone, but I can’t help but be excited for the future and all it will bring to our community,” Thomas said.

evedcable@gmail.com

This article was originally published in print on March 15 in issue 33.11 of The Eastern Door.

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Eve is a reporter with the Eastern Door. She has also covered harm reduction and social justice issues for the Montreal Gazette, The Breach, Filter Magazine, and more.

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Eve is a reporter with the Eastern Door. She has also covered harm reduction and social justice issues for the Montreal Gazette, The Breach, Filter Magazine, and more.