Official opening of Highland Rugby Fieldhouse

It has been a long road for the Highland Rugby Club, but the Victoria Park Fieldhouse is a reality.

Korb Whale, fieldhouse project coordinator, said the club got the building permit for the renovations in 2005, but the project actually started in 2003.

“We’re coming up on seven years. I know I’m not alone when I say this is definitely something we’ve dreamed of. We didn’t know the day we’d actually open the doors, but we managed to do it.”

He thanked everyone who even put in a second’s worth of work.

“We’ve had hundreds of volunteers and literally tens of thousands of hours, not to mention $350,000 worth of effort and donations have gone into the building so far.”

Whale said it could not have been done without the sup­port of the township and the Trillium Foundation, financially and politically.

Assisting in the grand ribbon cutting were Centre Wellington Mayor Joanne Ross-Zuj, Wellington-Halton Hills MPP Ted Arnott and Highland Rugby president Darrin Landoni.

Arnott said he originally thought it was an ex­tremely ambitious for a club of that size, “But you’ve done it. You’ve done it with enthusiasm, by building partnerships, and you’ve done a super job.”

He was pleased the Trillium Foundation support the project to the tune of $75,000.

He said the group is non-political to ensure than community organizations can benefit from their work “in a way that leads to successful projects like this.”

“I am really delighted to be here today,” Ross-Zuj said, noting that councillor Bob Foster was also in attendance. “This is such a day of pride.”

She remembered when she was first approached with the pictures of what was planned for the old agricultural hall “and I thought, this is going to be an amazing project. If they get it off the ground, it’s going to be spectacular … and you did it.”

She said everyone in the community is going to benefit, and noted that when her own daughter was young, playing in Victoria Park, it was always something we knew that was needed in this area.

Ross-Zuj said that she has heard a couple of the teams are heading to England this summer. “What a memory they’re going to have.”

“Beyond the building, you’ve built a wonderful sport organization and I thank you for that,” she said.

Highland Rugby president Darrin Landoni appreciated those who came. He said in looking back, one might ask why the group took it on.

But, looking at the pictures of how it was and seeing the facility as it is now, “We realize we’ve accomplished something that is quite incredible and we’re very happy with the end result.”

But, Landoni said the group is not done, there are still things to be finished.

“The reason we did this, is because when this all started, we were a small group – a club of one team that loved this game of rugby.”

“Part of building that club is to have a home.”

He said the club was lucky enough to get the property and to lease the building.

The team had played in Belwood, in Elora, and at the Fergus community centre.

“But since this project began, Victoria Park has been our home. We’re proud to be part of the community and wanted to build something the community could be proud of.”

“We’ve created national team and provincial team players, and players heading overseas. Having this building today, has cemented our location within our community.”

The project included a massive refit of the building  and new sewer lines and services. Public washrooms are in place, but work still to be done includes dressing rooms and finishing the kitchen. In addition,the community hall available for rentals, there is office space for the club.

Landoni said the plan started when the group was still playing at the arena and the International Plowing Match was held in Elora in 2000. There was a structure there they thought the club might be able to use.

The Fergus Agricultural Society had just moved its fall fair up to the Fergus community centre grounds. That group hoped to get the barn there for its use in exchange for the facility at Victoria Park. The barn at the plowing match was taken down and moved to the Fergus site and rebuilt.

“That became the agriculture society’s new home, and we, in turn,moved here. That’s what kicked everything off,” Landoni said, adding there was a long process getting ready for agreements and permits.

Whale said, “Since [2003] we’ve slowly raised money and got grants.”

There was a last big push last year that included new plumbing and electrical.

“It’s all basically new except for the concrete block and the steel on the roof. We started from scratch.”

The project included removal of much of the concrete base to install plumbing.

“I think we calculated about 80 tons of stuff was taken out – some was leftover material from the ag society,” Whale said. When concrete was removed from the floor to put in the new plumbing, some of that was 10 inches thick.

“It all had to be cut out or chipped out by hand with volunteer labour. We’re approaching the 30,000 hour mark in volunteer labour,” Whale said.

He said, “It couldn’t have been done without the support of the community.”

He cited Doug Jack helping with the legal end and architect Jim Fryett, who helped design the building.

“There’s been a lot of local people who’ve put time in to make this a success. It hasn’t just been rugby members; it’s been a community thing.”

He cited materials donated or offered at reduced prices.

As for the growth of the club, Landoni said it has gone from one seniors men’s club in 1992 with 11 players and, “Now we are about the ninth largest club in the province, with 210 members. We’re the biggest club west of Toronto.”

The club includes senior men’s teams, women’s teams, and teams for various age groups from 4 years old to 54 years old.