On Aug. 19, the City of Kitchener announced that it had selected a proposal from Walkinshaw Holdings Inc. to reopen The Boathouse in Kitchener’s Willow River Park, formerly Victoria Park.  

The city released the request for proposals in November 2021 and received multiple proposals for the venue. If approved by city council, the group plans to bring live music and entertainment back to the venue for the first time since it abruptly closed in October 2019.  

Walkinshaw Holdings is composed of several local business leaders who bring experience in the restaurant and entertainment industries, marketing, fundraising, business and technology. The group’s members include Amber French, Kurtis McBride, Shawn Flanagan, Sean Goodchild, Taylor Jones, James Barr and Corey Watterson.   

French is the co-founder and managing partner of Catalyst Capital, an investment company that connects investors to the region’s technology and real estate opportunities. She said working to bring The Boathouse to life again is a passion project for the group.  

“We live here. We’re raising our kids here. We all saw the closure of The Boathouse as just such a missed opportunity. We just want to create a more vibrant arts and culture scene in our home,” French said.  

Taking on a project like The Boathouse was not a decision the group took lightly. Barr, co-founder of Turnstone, a public parking operations technology startup, said that the initial conversation with McBride, CEO of Miovision, about The Boathouse’s potential ended with acknowledging they needed a team to bring the proposal forward.  

“I think a two person team is tough. It’s a demanding business and having a larger team gives us the best leg up we could get. If they’re really underwater with what they’re doing. day to day, there’s six other people on our team who can jump in,” Barr said.  

The group said they know there are high expectations for how the historic venue will be used.  

The Boathouse has been home to a successive run of restaurant and entertainment venues since the 1990s. Barr said he believes it was their group’s approach to creating a community that set them apart.   

“We didn’t approach it from the perspective of ‘wow, this is a cool place,’ and have that coolness reflect on us’. Instead, our approach across our whole team was, ‘What can we give to The Boathouse?’,” Barr said.  

The group’s plans include offering food, beverage and live music with a focus on being a space for everyone.  

Barr said they are looking at donating the use of the space to community groups and offering shows without cover charges to make them more accessible. They are also looking at providing free live streams of shows to help up-and-coming musical acts connect with new audiences.  

“We asked how everyone can get a chance to enjoy this. We thought about all of those angles and we pulled as much of that together as we could in the proposal,” Barr said.  

Taylor Jones, a partner and executive producer at video production company Digital Sabbath, said the group wants The Boathouse to reflect the people who call Kitchener home.  

The group’s plan includes having committees to help connect with artists, community groups and others to make the venue as inclusive as possible.  

“It’s not just going to be us, this is really going to be a place for everyone. We need to be able to provide all of the programming and all of the experiences that we have to offer in Kitchener,” Jones said.  

The group also sees The Boathouse as an equally important venue for local artists. French said they are talking to venues like Centre in the Square to help strengthen the music ecosystem in Kitchener.   

“I think that will help to make the scene vibrant in the long run. There’s just so much potential and, again, because this is such a passion for all of us, it’s really about creating a more vibrant arts and culture scene in Kitchener-Waterloo,” French said.