The first time I went Caledonia Park was for the 2011 B.C. Football Conference final, and I fell in love.
It was easy to. The tree-lined football stadium in full fall colours with antique bleachers, it was like stepping back in time.
There may not be a better setting for football, period.
Unfortunately, that beauty is only skin deep. It doesn't take one long to realize that the facilities are the worst in Canadian junior football.
Those antique bleachers are a hazard, with large gaps between steps and seats, easily big enough for a kid to fall through or an adult to break their leg in.
The shower facilities are tiny and nearly unworkable for one team, let alone two. And as far as change rooms go, there is only one.
The soil-based field also turns to a bowl of muddy soup every time there is the least bit of rain, as was the case in last year's BCFC final.
In a court case, these would be the agreed upon facts. Nobody argues them.
The problem is, this field is down right bad for Nanaimo's reputation.
It's turned what should be a jewel in South Nanaimo into an embarrassing eyesore.
It reinforces the stereotype that the Harbour City is a place you drive through on the way to somewhere else.
Which is a shame. It spoils the philanthropy of the Vancouver Island Raiders, who have done their best to spread the good word of Nanaimo throughout the country. They have given the city a team to be proud of and to rally around as three-time national champions.
Now the Raiders are at great risk of not even being able to bring those fans and teams from across the country to town. The Canadian Junior Football League has already said they will not allow Caledonia Park to host another national semifinal or final. The BCFC is threatening to follow suit and not allow the Raiders to host another provincial championship, which the club has hosted the last seven years.
Senior manager of parks and civic facilities for the City of Nanaimo Jeff Ritchie does not dispute the need for a new building, and the wheels are in motion.
But the going has been slow. There have been two big hangups, money and urgency. The money part is understandable; $3-5 million is a lot to spend on a stadium for one team that will play there a maximum eight times a year. But it should also not all be on the over-taxed Nanaimo populace to fund the stadium. There are other avenues of funding, from raising it themselves, bringing in other user groups and getting sponsorships from private companies or in-kind labour donations.
When it comes to urgency, the Raiders are hoping that fire has finally been lit, as a proposal will be brought before council in the fall.
Nanaimo is a city that is very proud of its cultural history and contributions to the arts. But make no mistake, sports and athletics play a very large part in a city's culture and self-image.
Sports facilities are a big issue in Nanaimo right now.
The facilities that Vancouver Island University uses, while regularly winning provincial and national championships, are old, small, and are keeping them from making the jump to Canadian Interuniversity Sport.
There is also a major push to build a multiplex that would attract a Western Hockey League team, and, at the very least, would provide a venue for other sports and aspiring athletes.
A new Caledonia Park needs to be a priority. It's not building a sandbox for millionaires. It's about giving those young athletes that we develop a place to aspire to play, instead of leaving town, and to attract people from around the country to Nanaimo.
It's about being a place people want to stay instead of just driving through.
© Copyright 2013