PICTURE THIS: July 1988; Dyersville, Iowa, USA; where fertile soil, traditional values and simple pleasures are the standard; a century-old family farm house; a young farmer and baseball fan is inspired by a voice he can’t ignore to pursue a dream for which, along with his wife, he begins the quest by carving his modest cornfield into a baseball field; baseball star players emerge from the rows of his cornfield and play a game of baseball. Fiction? Reality? The movie FIELD OF DREAMS, released in 1989 and starring Kevin Costner, was a nominee for ‘Best Picture of the Year’, became a popular hit with movie-goers, sports fans and subsequently, a classic in its genre.
As you read this introductory paragraph, you are probably asking yourself where it’s all going, where you are being lead… Here is the famous quote from that movie that will give you a clue: ‘If you build it, they will come!’
WELL, LET’S FAST-FORWARD NOW: July 2021, Hawkesbury, Ontario, Canada; a multi-use 20-acre green space inhabited island on the Ottawa River called Le Chenail Island (or ‘Snye’); this island was originally much larger and hosted some forty families; but in the 1960s, the water level was raised nine feet with the construction of the Carillon hydro-electric dam some twenty kilometres downstream and residents were expropriated; only one building remains: the Maison de l’Ile, built c. 1885, the oldest building in Hawkesbury; the entire remaining island officially became a public park in 1967 and, as a token of Canada’s celebrations of its centennial, was named Confederation Park; two vertical blocs of granite stand on guard at its east entrance with historical references to the event; in the meantime, in the years 1998-2000, as a new bridge was erected to replace the older and unstable Perley bridge which was renamed the Long-Sault bridge, the island and its park became a major construction zone for a few years.
Through the years and with the complicity and goodwill of successive town councils, one small step at a time, year in and year out, the Confederation Park added a great number of attractions to the island: a renovated Maison de l’Ile that now houses Le Chenail Cultural Centre and its recent annex, the Richelieu Pavillion, an open structure built in the 1970s with arched beams recycled from the second story structure of the old Memorial centre, fishing stations, a marina with boat ramp and docking facilities, a tourist information centre, a ‘pétanque’ area, picnic areas, watersports rental kiosk, an outdoor sculpture garden, a monument plaza for La Francophonie and Le Chenail original expropriated residents, a beach volleyball court, renovated public washrooms, ample parking spaces, within walking distance to Hawkesbury’s and Grenville’s downtowns.
‘If you build it, they will come!’ And guess what? They came, and they are still coming, day after day, weekend after weekend, mostly by car licenced equally from Ontario and Quebec, by motorcycle, by motorhome, by bike, on foot… They are all over the island, attending a pow-wow at the Cultural Centre, fishing walleye under the shade of the bridge, sharing a cold (non-alcoolised, bien entendu!) one at a picnic table, playing a game of pétanque against other club members or among strangers,… Who are ‘THEY’? They are TOURISTS, from nearby or from far, men, women, children, families, friends, buddies, sportspeople, boatpeople, ordinary people… And from their comments and reviews on different travel sites, they absolutely love it!
What a great success story for the town of Hawkesbury and for us all! We should be proud of this achievement! A local group is already working on its sequel starring the Green Beaver Plaza. Small steps: if you build it, they will come.