Getting to Know the Durham Rowing Club
Club Profile/ Oct 19

Getting to Know the Durham 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 Durham Rowing Club!

Durham Rowing Club
Established: 1989
Location: Port Perry, Ont.

Located in Port Perry, Ont., the Durham Rowing Club has been in operation for just over 30 years after it was established in 1989. The club rows at the Port Perry end of Lake Scugog, a nice setting which gives its members approximately 24km worth of water to row on during rowing season, which usually begins in early May and goes to late October.

The ‘DRC’ has carved out a nice niche in the rowing community and become part of the fabric of the Port Perry area, despite some more challenging times when they first started out. The club was originally located in Oshawa and rowed out of McLaughlin Bay, but after a few years the club’s leaders found that there wasn’t enough water to row on. It’s founders, namely Rob Millikin, Mike Mahar, Scott Withers and John Godden were all rowing enthusiasts who lived in the area and decided to bring their passion for rowing to the Durham region in the form of a new club. In 1992, the founders decided to move the club north to Port Perry, which led to some interesting and inventive ways to house and transport their boats during their first few years.

“When the club first moved to Port Perry, they housed the boats in one of the buildings up the street, which was right in the downtown,” said current club President Jennifer Durward, who has been a member of the club since the mid-1990’s. “At the time they would walk down the street with the boats and water launch out of Palmer Park, which they did for a few years. After that, the boats lived on the club trailer at Jeanette Lunenborg’s house, who was one of the coaches at the club. Every morning she would drive them into the club, and we would unload them, rig them, and row, then de-rig them and load them back on the trailer. We did that every day for years. The boat house was built in 1998, which made things way easier and was a huge benefit for the club.”

The founders of the DRC all played key roles in helping it get established and have been big contributors over the years. There are many others who have also contributed a lot of their time, knowledge and expertise to the club though, including Durward, who has been a member for over 25 years, the last ten of which have been as President. The Smith Family, Gordon and Julie and their daughter Keely, have been involved since the mid-90’s and have also been driving forces behind many of the club’s initiatives. In recent years, the club has had a very dedicated group of coaches who have stepped up and kept their competitive and university programs running. Once members join the club they tend to stick around and become involved in more than just rowing, creating an atmosphere where all members want to see the club grow and be successful.

One of the most important developments in the history of the club was their association with Ontario Tech University. Ontario Tech, which was previously known as the University of Ontario Institute of Technology, was founded in 2002 and in 2006 the Ridgebacks started a rowing program affiliated with the Durham Rowing Club. Millikin coached the program for the first four years of its run, followed by current Row Ontario board member Caitlin Beresford for one year. Durward has served as head coach since 2011. The university program has had a number of benefits for the DRC, including increased visibility and a continuous flow of new and fresh faces coming into the club through Ontario Tech. The high point of the university program so far came in 2012 when the team picked up their first two medals in program history at the OUA championships. Some alumni of Ontario Tech have also given back to the DRC after graduating by becoming coaches or volunteering at the club in some capacity.

In addition to their university program, the DRC also runs competitive junior, senior and master’s programs which run through the Spring, Summer and Fall. Additionally, they run learn to run programs for youths, juniors and adults, and have introduced week-long day camps for junior-aged athletes, making them a full-service club that embraces the rowing for life mentality. The competitive group of rowers at the club all train together no matter what category they compete in, making for a diverse training group. The DRC also has the capability of facilitating para programming on an as needed basis. One of the club’s most accomplished members is Jaclyn Stelmaszyk (nee Halco), who began her rowing journey with the DRC as a high school student at Uxbridge Secondary School. She went on to row for the Western Mustangs in university and advanced to the world stage where she has represented both Canada and Poland. She is currently training with the Polish national team in hopes of qualifying for the Tokyo Olympics.

In an average year the club membership of the DRC is usually between 100-120 rowers, making it a solid mid-sized club in a region with several other rowing clubs just an hour or so away. Approximately five years ago, the club did some renovations and put two more bays onto the boat house to give them some more space to run their varied programs. The club members also travel quite a bit during the Summer, as they are regularly keen competitors in regattas throughout the province. The club has done well through its first 31 years thanks to running solid programming and building strong relationships with its members.

“We pride ourselves on when people become members they tend to stick around for a long time,” said Durward. “It becomes a second family with a smaller club environment. We have members who drive just under an hour in from Newmarket, Pickering, Uxbridge, and really anywhere in Durham. We run solid programs and we make sure our instructors are qualified, so we have the right people in place to run our different programs. We think we have something for everyone. The DRC is really a great place to learn and grow with the sport of rowing.”

Thank you to Jennifer Durward for her generous contributions and help in completing this profile. Photos are property of the Durham Rowing Club.