To The Editor,

Thousands of people travel through Hawkesbury each day but don’t stop. In fact, it’s not just that people don’t stop here as much as we’d like, but Hawkesbury has experienced a net loss of the population of -2.7%. Many towns which start losing  citizens end up becoming ghost towns. Hawkesbury is extremely fortunate in that it resides right on the cross-hairs of  important roads in the region which see thousands of people travel through town each day. The question should be, “Why stop in Hawkesbury on your way through?”

I have been racking my brain trying to find cost-effective activities, strategies and tactics to be developed, mobilized, executed and maintained by someone living in Hawkesbury to unite the community and draw interest and investment from visitors. I came up with a number of ideas but I thought Dragon Boat racing would be definitely do-able, cool and would see profitability as soon as advertised.

Imagine traveling through Hawkesbury and you saw people gathered around the water, waving flags, racing huge colourful canoes, eating all sorts of barbecued food, drinking iced tea, eating ice cream, playing touch football, swimming at a beach, dancing to live music, kids running around a maypole, walking along a boardwalk, etc. Would you stop and investigate? Would you think differently about Hawkesbury? I would. Dragon Boat racing would be unique in the region. The races could be launched from Chenail Island, Parc Cyr-de-Lasalle and soon, the former CIP site. We have strategic land to use for leisure activities and social / community events that haven’t been used properly up to now. The course could be between 100m and 1000m, we have that.

You may not know a lot about dragon boat racing, but it’s been around for thousands of years, bringing communities together and building team spirit. Dragon boat racing is both a summer and winter activity so can be done all year round. Being on a dragon boat team, even for 30 minutes, allows anyone the experience of being able to get to know other people, on a very real level, through coordinating efforts, synchronizing strength and competing as a team. The sport raises team spirit and cooperation among its members, which are transferable skills. And we need these skills! Companies find that the experiences of dealing with the fast pace and challenges of adapting to external environments help build on job skills of friendship, personal accountability and achievement.

There are lots of questions that I am asking myself and doing research on right now such as: How much money can be generated by dragon boat racing? Who races dragon boats? What are the other benefits of dragon boat racing? Why would dragon boat racing be successful in Hawkesbury? But I think those questions, when answered, will support my belief that it’s a low-cost, high-return investment.

The cost of a 20-person boat is about $20,000. A single entry fee from a corporate team would cost over $1,500. Not only would a team come to compete but the team members might stay for dinner, do some shopping, stay if there were accommodations, etc. I have read consulting reports that support the idea that dragon boat racing is profitable from start to finish. I can also imagine friendly competition between all the local communities and an annual banquet to celebrate the season and hand out awards. All this, while raising money for local charities.

I’d love to team up with a wood-worker or wood-workers and build a couple of dragon boats. The experience would teach people a new skill that could be used again and again. I think building the boats would be a great community activity and may even bring in a whole new industry to the community.

I’d like to see more Hawkesburians and people from other local communities become involved within the community and I’d love to know that they are benefiting themselves and others while working towards a better quality of life.

I’m sure there are better ideas out there than dragon boat racing, and projects have come like a volleyball court, an indoor walking path, etc. that has cost the town well over $150,000. Let’s do something that builds community spirit, generates interest and revenue for a change and might help start the change that we are all waiting for. At least let’s start putting ideas out there to get this change going.

Stephen Sockett,