Getting to Know Ontario Adventure Rowing
To honour the history, dedication and current initiatives of each rowing community, Row Ontario will be producing a series of profiles on member clubs across Ontario. Today we get to know more about Ontario Adventure Rowing!
Ontario Adventure Rowing
Location: The Waterways of Ontario
Row touring, which originated in Europe, is unlike rowing in a standard racing shell. You do not row on a marked course in familiar waters. Row touring is the adventure side of the sport and introduces its rowers to unfamiliar waterways and scenery throughout the world while generally travelling anywhere between 15-40km per day in touring or coastal boats. Now in its 25th year, Ontario Adventure Rowing (OAR) introduced row touring to the Ontario rowing community in 1996 and its longevity has proven that row touring has carved out a place in the Ontario rowing landscape.
OAR was started by three individuals from the Don Rowing Club, who had a background in row touring from their upbringing in Europe. Germans Ernst Peters, Claudia Moessuer and Peter Okrens initiated the first rowing tour in 1996 and they did so in regular boats, not touring boats, which made the first trek a little more challenging. The first Ontario row tour took place on the Rideau River from the Poonamalie Lockstation near Smith Falls, Ont. to Big Rideau Lake near Portland, Ont. and back. Shortly after its inception, Ontario Adventure Rowing became a committee within Row Ontario, and then became a separate association in 2008.
When we’re out there and going down these waterways, we’re helping to promote the sport of rowingRichard Vincent, President of OAR
The first few years were modest for OAR as row touring was introduced to Ontario rowers, but the adventure side of the sport received a big boost in its profile in 2002 when a FISA World Tour event was awarded to Canada to take place on the Rideau River. Patrick Vincent, who was also from the Don Rowing Club, along with Peters and Okrens were the driving forces behind the event and served as its organizers. The event was not only helpful in increasing row touring’s profile, but it also allowed OAR to secure several touring boats and trailers which were able to be spread across the province which was a huge help in the growth of row touring in its early years.
These days, OAR operates around 10-12 tours per year which come in a variety of distances, number of days and routes. They also have a mobile touring centre that can travel across the province and launch tours from almost any waterway.
“There are some tours that are run every year, but each year will be a little different to give our returning tourers a new experience,” said Shelagh Baker, OAR’s Publicity Director. “A good example of this is the Muskoka Tour. It’s been going for a long time, but each year we switch up and do a different lake or a different route. We have people that come on the tours with different experience levels with rowing which is great, and we try to provide something for everyone. The distances of the tours vary with some that are more low key where you row for an hour and then break, and other times you cover longer distances in more challenging events, such as half and full marathons.”
OAR has also made a point to explore different waterways around the province and give tourers a chance to see different parts of the province from the water. The row touring season typically kicks off in the Spring in Welland at the Banana Belt Tour and ends in October at the aptly titled Icicle Chase in the Belleville area. In between some of the more familiar tours take place on the Ottawa, Nottawasaga, and Grand Rivers, Rideau and Trent Canals, Kawartha and Muskoka Lakes, as well as Algonquin Park. The two urban tours are the Toronto Islands Tour (Hanlan Boat Club) where the rough water of Toronto harbour is juxta positioned against the calm water in the channels between the Islands and the Canadian Sculling Marathon (ONEC) where the 42 and 21 km rows go under Parliament Hill.
“When we’re out there and going down these waterways, we’re helping to promote the sport of rowing,” said Richard Vincent, Current President of OAR. “We’re rowing in places a long way from the clubs and in areas like cottage country where you wouldn’t normally see it. You don’t really realize until you’re there and doing it. We have over 100 people who participate each year in tours, and some do multiple tours each year. We also have unique structure as an Ontario Association, in that we have rowing clubs who join us as members in addition to individual members.”
In 2019, OAR had 15 clubs join as members (14 from Ontario and one from the United States) as well as individual members. This unique membership model allows row touring to be promoted within other Ontario rowing clubs with members who are looking to experience a new type of adventure within the sport. The growth of row touring has helped OAR bring more international events to Ontario, including a 2012 FISA World Tour Event.
“We ran a tour in the Sudbury area for a number of years called the Black Fly, which culminated in us running a FISA Tour event in 2012,” said Vincent. “It attracted people from around the world and a lot of Europeans in particular and was a really great way to showcase Ontario waterways to a lot of people who had never been on them before.”
OAR has another FISA World Tour event planned for 2022 that will take place on the Bay of Quinte as well as through the Thousand Islands in what will be a spectacular scenic tour.
Vincent points to a few other individuals whose hard work and dedication have helped grow row touring over the years including Scott Withers started the Icebreaker Tour at the Durham Rowing Club and Maxine Walker (Quinte Rowing Club) who still runs the Icicle Chase Marathon, Donna Spiegel who organized the 2012 FISA World Tour event, and Ted Wolvers and Arnold Vandermeer, who have maintained the mobile touring centre and driven the trailer for a number of years. Members of OAR have also participated in a number of international tours over the years, including the Rallye du Canal du Midi and Randonnée la Meuse et ses citadelles in France, the Florida Intracoastal Tour and the Berlin Tour. A planned tour in the Netherlands this year was unfortunately scuttled due to COVID-19.
With club mandates to develop, undertake and promote row touring and to introduce international rowing touring to Ontario rowers, Ontario Adventure Rowing has succeeded by every measure so far and will continue to bring new and exciting tours to Ontario rowers in the future.
“We are such an inclusive group,” said Baker. “You don’t have to be someone who has rowed for 25 years to feel like you can participate. We like to take our time and soak up the scenery. Row touring is a unique way to enjoy the sport of rowing, meet other like-minded rowers, and experience the beauty of Ontario’s waterways while you’re doing it.”
Thank you to Richard Vincent and Shelagh Baker for their generous contributions and help in completing this profile. Photos are property of Ontario Adventure Rowing.