The tenth annual summer bonspiel is taking place Aug. 27, and curlers were holding their breath in hopes that town council changed their minds about disallowing camping at the arena.
When members of the local curling group, Cowichan Rocks, were informed in writing by town council that they could no longer use the arena’s parking lot for camping during their annual summer bonspiel, their response was one of disappointment and shock.
“We, the Cowichan Rocks Society, feel that if camping is disallowed at the parking lot, we might possibly lose the bonspiel. We are asking for a favourable outcome today,” Tricia Mayea said at the last Parks and Rec committee meeting, Aug. 11.
Mayea considers the summer bonspiel the biggest success story of the curling club, in which 32 teams come from as far as the U.S. and Saskatchewan to participate in, totaling over 150 people in Lake Cowichan for a period of three or four days.
“Many groups go on to stay longer and explore the area. They love it here. Less than half of these groups use the parking lot for camping. In the last nine years we have never had an incident with the RCMP.”
Mayea explained the benefit of using the parking lot for camping is because of the hectic schedule the bonspiel runs on, with games every two hours. “Everything starts up early and ends late. This is an extremely busy time for teams,” she said.
Gates at local campsites like Gordon Bay and Lakeview close at 10 p.m.
“These people come here for the small town beauty and the friendships they have made over the years. The spend a lot of money at shops, restaurants, gas stations, grocery stores, etc. They are a wonderful group of people, very respectful and appreciative of our little town,” Mayea said in favour of allowing camping to continue at the arena.
“In closing we are asking that Mayor and Council reconsider your denial of our request to use the parking lot for camping.”
In response, council was curious to know if Cowichan Rocks advertises that camping on site is available.
Mayea said camping has been available for a number of years because it’s just sort of happened.
“What we are trying to do is appease some of the neighbourhood problems that have come forward,” councillor Bob Day said.
Mayor Ross Forrest said, “We are not trying to single out any one group. It was slowly starting to get out of hand. It is not a public campsite. I’m all about bringing recreation to Lake Cowichan but we were being forced to put a stop to it [camping in parking lots] at some point.”
Linda Backlund, another curler in attendance and the manager of Cowichan Lake Recreation, pointed out that the bonspiel has already had two teams cancel when they heard they couldn’t camp near the arena.
“Curlers are very sociable, it doesn’t just involve drinking, it involves families,” said Nancy McArthur, a Chemainus resident who attended the town council meeting.
“We curl together, we camp together, we socialize together. I have a big fear that if the camping is taken away and we are separated into four or five groups, that the bonspiel will fall apart. That is the social core of the bonspiel, and taking the camping away is a major factor in that scenario,” she added.
“We’ve allowed camping the last few years. We will work in conjunction with [visitors] to ease the transition, and try to steer the campers to a campground, which makes sense to us. That was our intent. We caught you off-guard, we must apologize for that,” Day said.
Following Day’s apology, Councillor Tim McConigle made the motion “to allow camping for the summer ‘spiel this year exclusively with notification that next year it will be not allowed.”
The motion passed.
“The intention of council in the initial process was to try to sell them the alternatives in town for accommodations rather than a parking lot, and try to steer them out of neighbourhood areas,” Day said.
Garry Callender, a curler from Victoria, argues the convenience factor involved with close camping to the arena.
“If you know curlers, we like to drink, and that is a perfect set-up for the people. We can camp there, we can crawl into bed after the games.”
Bob Simpson, another curler in attendance, questioned council allowing camping on town property next to the South Shore Motel but debates over who owned the property lingered.
“We don’t want to hinder you guys. We want to support your bonspiel. We’re not trying to pick on any one group,” Forrest said.
“I find it really hard that you as a council could take and let one or two households for three or four days take away $25,000 to $30,000 of income for a community that is really crying for an income due to loss of logging,” Callender said.
“Within one or two years that bonspiel will be done and that is a major fundraiser for this curling club. It doesn’t make sense to me that local businesses would want to see that money gone.”
But, allowing free camping in parking lots could already be negatively impacting local businesses.
Bruce Chisholm, manager of the Lake Cowichan Lodge said in a later interview, that he has some curling groups staying at the lodge, but some have cancelled because of the free camping.
“I booked a reservation last night for three nights and they called me back an hour later saying they heard they could camp, and cancelled their reservation. It was a big loss,” he said.
“We’re trying to run a business here and by allowing free camping, the town is taking our business away. It’s a tough year in Lake Cowichan. We try to keep our doors open but when the town is doing that it makes it really difficult.”
Chisholm said he certainly enjoys having curling teams come to town but once they are allowed to camp for free in parking lots, hotels and campgrounds lose out.
The group of curlers were appreciative of the outcome to be able to camp next to the arena this year and to be given the chance to plan accordingly for next year.