Getting to Know the Collingwood Rowing Club
Club Profile/ Jul 15

Getting to Know the Collingwood Rowing Club

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 the Collingwood Rowing Club!

Collingwood Rowing Club
Established: 2003
Location: Collingwood, Ont.

The Collingwood Rowing Club began in 2003 with small group of rowing enthusiasts who wanted to develop a rowing club based in the Collingwood Harbour.

The club started out with one old wooden eight and a handful of members in their first few years. The club members eventually grew, and more boats were accumulated, with a quad and two other boats being added to club’s fleet in the first five years. While sometimes the waters can be a little rough, the Collingwood Harbour provides a great setting and scenic views for the club’s rowers.

“It’s a pretty secluded little harbour, but the winds can blow in and we can have some rough waters at times, which can make rowing in small boats challenging,” said Kate McLachlin, a long-time club member and former board member. “On the water where we row are the Collingwood grain terminals, which are kind of an iconic landmark in the area. We row along there and see them every morning along with some awesome, sunrises coming up over Georgian Bay. It’s also lovely to watch the sun go down over Blue Mountain to the west when we’re rowing in the evening. So, it’s a pretty idyllic place to row.”

The club water launches its boats from a beach on the shore and are usually in the water from mid-May once the water warms up until the end of October. The Collingwood Harbour also provides lots of open waters for the members to enjoy.

“When you follow the shoreline and go into the inlets it’s about 4km total that we have to row on,” said Christie Lashley, another long-time club member. “We don’t have a dock, so we do a water entry just off the beach. There’s a walking path there, so you usually get a few people walking by when you’re loading or pulling boats out. A lot of them ask questions about what we’re doing, they’re just kind of fascinated by the whole thing and watching us row.”

There have been several key contributors to the club over the years starting with the initial group who rowed with the club during its infancy including former President Tiffany Thompson, Connie Leishman, Jill Proud, Ian Hawkins, Karen Collacutt, Cynthia Rowlinson, and Mike Rowlinson. Collacutt was a former high-level rower who coached at the club for several years, while Cynthia Rowlinson was instrumental in establishing a youth program at the club. In the early 2010’s, the club began its youth program by hosting a number of week-long rowing camps for local youths and established a core group of high-school aged rowers who would row at the club for a number of years. A key moment in the club’s history came during this period as well, as they received a Trillium Grant in 2012, which was tied to the youth program, that allowed them to significantly increase their rowing fleet and purchase some much needed equipment. Five of the rowers who were part of the youth program would go on to row at universities in Canada and the United States.

In more recent years, John Megarry was a key contributor and served as Club President and did a tremendous amount of work for the club during his time as President. Debbie Cass took over as President in 2020 and has helped shepherd the club through the uncertain times of the last year. The club’s leadership and other volunteers have run a variety of different club events over the last decade or so, including a popular fundraiser called ‘Butts in Boats’ which featured a silent auction and donations, a series of ‘Try It Days’ which were a part of a waterfront festival in Collingwood, a skill-based challenge day for interested club members, and the occasional ‘dump day’, where club members practice the extremely important skill of flipping and getting back into the boat. Collingwood’s rowers also participated in a rotating event between clubs in the area where they would travel to different clubs to row in a different location and in different boats with other clubs’ members.

While they’ve run competitive programs in the past and still have a few competitive masters rowers, the Collingwood Rowing Club very much embodies the ‘rowing for life’ philosophy. They are predominantly a recreational club whose members row for fitness and the love of being out in the water in the early mornings and evenings.

“We’re a small club and most of our members are from Collingwood or nearby communities like Thornbury,” said Cass. “We don’t have set crews, everybody just shows up for our practice times and we decide which boats we’re going to take out. We all just want to be active and on the water.”

The club’s oldest member is 92-year-old Jack Barber, who joined the club about seven years ago. Barber has been instrumental in making some homemade equipment for the club in his spare time. He’s constructed a cart that ‘wheels like a dream’ across the beach, which is very helpful for getting oars and other equipment down to the water with the absence of a dock. It’s that type of willingness to pitch in from members that’s helped the club sustain itself since the beginning.

“We’re just a fun recreational club,” said McLachlin. “There’s no pressure, everyone has an opportunity to come out and there’s different sized boats. I kind of feel like it’s pickup rowing in a way, we all just kind of show up and look at the water, decide if it’s safe and what type of boat we’re going to go out in. You can do a variety of rowing, sweep or scull or whatever you want to do. It’s your decision on how you spend your evening or morning.”

Thank you to Debbie Cass, Kate McLachlin and Christie Lashley for their generous contributions and help in completing this profile. Photos are property of the Collingwood Rowing Club.