It’s been three years since the Club d'aviron Argonaut successfully completed their community bond raise of $1.2 million. The funds from their 90 investors were put to use to revitalize their facilities after a flood caused by the high waters of Lake Ontario resulted in severe damage, and today the Club is looking better than ever! “The renovations have changed everything,” shares Jason van Ravenswaay, President of the Club. “Members are proud of the facility, they are referring others to join, and we have so much dock space for our rowers. We have a real community feeling now, because we have this amazing space where people want to be and catch up.”
In the wake of the flood, the Board knew they needed to make major repairs but they chose to view the renovations as an opportunity rather than a burden. They saw the opportunity to make the Club fully accessible to their para-athletes and all guests, create new gym space for erging and weightlifting, build new and much needed dock space, and give a facelift to their event space – an important source of revenue for the non-profit organization. And they chose to make this a reality by allowing their supporters to become investors.
The last few years have not been without hurdles but the Club weathered the storm that Covid-19 brought on, due in large part to the strong cohesion of their community. “Covid was a scary time because there were so many unknowns,” shares Jason. “We had no clue if it was going to continue for 2 weeks, 2 months or two years!”
The Club was closed for short periods in 2020/21 due to province and city-wide restrictions and faced challenges to run two of their most important programs as a result – Camp Argo et Learn to Row. Fortunately, through the perseverance and creativity of their leadership team, the Club was able to reopen through a pilot program launched with Rowing Canada. “The idea was that we could do a test run of how rowing Clubs across Canada could reopen safely,” Jason explains.
The Club invested in a new fleet of single boats – a necessity with regulations on social distancing and maintaining bubbles. They also got creative with new equipment like oar boards (a quasi paddle board/rowing boat). “The great thing is that this ingenuity has led to some great new developments for the Club. The oar boards have been wildly popular and it’s a fun new offering for us,” says Jason with a smile.
The tribulations brought on by Covid never affected the Argonaut Rowing Club community bond investors. “We were concerned about the bond holders and adhering to our repayment schedule,” Jason shares. “We considered a number of different options, including the potential to defer interest payments by a year, but we never needed to do that because we got creative with new sources of revenue and really cut costs – all while keeping our employees on board.”
The Argonaut Rowing Club has a close relationship with their investors and believe in always keeping an open and transparent channel of communication. “Our investors were very supportive, they applauded our leadership, offered to help, and many even chose to donate their interest payments back to us,” says Jason. “Through it all, the Club really came together.”
The future is looking very bright for the Argonaut Rowing Club. They are seeing great demand for their event space now that restrictions are being lifted, the rowers are eager to get back out onto the water (in some of the Club’s beautiful crew boats this summer!) and members are gearing up to celebrate the Club’s 150th anniversary this June. The Club has also established a diversity and inclusion committee and allocated 10 free memberships to remove barriers to youth in the local community.
ARC recently made a momentous announcement that they will become the official rowing center of the University of Toronto (U of T). “A partnership with a university is something we have wanted for a long time now,” says Jason, who is clearly excited about this new development. “We have this brilliant juniors program and so many talented young athletes. We have watched so many of them graduate and leave the Club to pursue rowing at universities outside Toronto.” The hope of the Club is that they can support the university with their recruitment and create continuity to keep their former Junior Argos at the Club. “We are confident that we can help U of T transition into that brand of being a rowing school.”
The Argonaut Rowing Club has a track record to back this up. They have seen their Argo rowers off to a multitude of national and international competitions. Three Argo alumni (Gavin Stone Men’s 4-, Sydney Payne Women’s 8 and Vicky Nolan in the PR3Mix 4+) competed at the 2020 Tokyo Olympic and Paralympic Games this past summer. “We hope with this new partnership with U of T, we will see more amazing young athletes sticking around to become the next leaders of the Club.”
When asked if there are future projects on the horizon for the Club, Jason said “I’m the type of person that is always thinking of what I can do next, but to be honest, the Club is looking great and there aren’t many items on my to-do list anymore.” For the time being, ARC is focused on growing their membership, developing its staffing model and continuing to provide the high quality programming that they are so well known for.