When it comes to the Centre culturel Le Chenail Cultural Centre (Le Chenail), information in the recent Integrity Commissioner’s report is either inaccurate or missing altogether, says the centre’s manager and artistic director.

The recent Integrity Commissioner report concludes that acrimony between the previous mayor and management at Le Chenail translated into conflict between the mayor and the town’s recreation department.

Lynda Clouette-Mackay, who has been at the helm of Le Chenail for the past six years, wants to set the record straight. What she experienced was a series of delays and what she describes as unnecessary complications as Le Chenail tried to get organized for the 2020 tourism season, along with the extra worry of the pandemic situation.

The system whereby boaters could purchase permits and park their vehicles at Le Chenail was changed in 2020, with the municipality wanting boaters to purchase permits online, 24 hours in advance, she notes. Many people arrived at Le Chenail unaware of the change, while others were unable to print their emailed receipt at home. (Instructions advise placing the printed receipt on the dash of your vehicle).

As a result of that change, Clouette-Mackay says it created frustrated customers dealing with students working at the tourist information centre in 2020. People were showing up at Le Chenail, expecting to purchase permits as they had in the past.

It was not until May 29, 2020 that council approved some funding for Le Chenail and allowed it to distribute information to visitors and boaters, including the boat ramp. An agreement between the Town of Hawkesbury and the Centre culturel Le Chenail did not get signed due to Recreation and Tourism Director Nicole Trudeau going on sick leave, according to Clouette-Mackay. That contract included as a “last resort”, the sale of boat/parking permits to those who were unable to purchase online. The agreement was to be in place from June 1, 2020 to November 30, 2020.

At its May 25 regular council meeting, a 4-3 vote defeated a motion to cancel the tourism contract with Le Chenail (the contract had already expired April 20, 2020). The resolution would have seen the Town of Hawkesbury purchase three self-serve information kiosks, placing one at Le Chenail.  In 2019, as part of its contract with Le Chenail, the town had given the not-for-profit organization $25,000.

The self-service interactive kiosks were described in the council resolution as being a good investment and stated that they could be placed in high-traffic areas, could be monetized through ads for local businesses and would have built-in analytics software. The cost to purchase three of the interactive kiosks was $25,000. Councillors Raymond Campbell, Robert Lefebvre and Yves Paquette voted in favour of the move, while Councillors André Chamaillard, Antonios Tsourounakis, Lawrence Bogue and Mayor Paula Assaly voted against the resolution.

According to Clouette-Mackay, it was Councillor Tsourounakis who ultimately held a Zoom meeting with Le Chenail president Grace Batista.

At a May 29 special council meeting, a resolution to allocate funds to Le Chenail Cultural Centre for providing information to tourists and users of the boat launch, in the $15,000 a year that was proposed, the amount was prorated to $7,500 in 2020 for the six months starting June 1 until November 30, 2020. Councillors André Chamaillard, Antonios Tsourounakis, Lawrence Bogue and Mayor Paula Assaly voted in favour of the motion, with Councillors Robert Lefebvre, Yves Paquette, and Raymond Campbell voting against it.

On June 2, Clouette-Mackay says that Le Chenail opened with plexiglass barriers and COVID-19 protocols in place. She says that students sold boat/parking permits to visitors and provided them with the permits on-site, adding that staff entered the permit sales into a shared document that was available to municipal staff for reporting purposes.

Clouette-Mackay is disheartened by the continuing lack of collaboration, explaining that following a 2019 survey conducted by students, they learned that the boat/parking permits sold by the Town of Hawkesbury were about one-third of the price being charged by other municipalities.

In nearby Grenville, village residents pay $10.

A lifetime pass is available to Hawkesbury residents for just $5; one-time visitor passes are $10 per day for non-residents (or $100 for the May to September season).

In Grenville, she noted, waterfront residents on Canal nord and Canal sud pay $10 for a boat/parking permit, while village residents pay $20 per day for a permit or $60 per year. Non-residents pay $60 per day for a boat/parking permit, or $200 per year.

“I suggested increasing the prices to $20 per day for non-residents. Our survey had shown that people would pay that amount. We could have doubled the revenue,” Clouette-Mackay contends.

The creation of an ad-hoc committee for a tourism platform for the Town of Hawkesbury with the support of the Counties and TPRT at the time was turned down by council.

Clouette-Mackay contends that Le Chenail actually saved the Town of Hawkesbury from paying students, who had at one time been stationed in the parking lot to sell the boat/parking permits. In 2020, Le Chenail sold 4,035 permits at $10 each – information which she says was available to the municipality at all times.

That Le Chenail is still a source of contention is the opposite of how things should be, she says.

Heritage and tourism locations are part of the economic development of the region, she says. Referring to the historical exhibition about Hawkesbury that takes place at Le Chenail every summer, in addition to ongoing exhibits and musical and other arts programs, “This is a big asset to the region. The councillors and everyone should be proud of the Centre culturel Le Chenail. We want to collaborate,” said Clouette-Mackay.