Getting to Know the LaSalle 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 LaSalle Rowing Club!
LaSalle Rowing Club
Location: Windsor, Ont.
Founded in 1970, the LaSalle Rowing Club is celebrating its 50th anniversary year in 2020. However, the history of rowing in Windsor, Ont. long pre-dates the LaSalle Rowing Club. While records are spotty and not much information is known, a rowing club in downtown Windsor known as the Walkerville Boat Club was in operation as early as 1909 and reports of seeing scullers in the area date back to the late 1800’s. The Walkerville Boat Club had a spectacular looking boat house and lasted for several years in the area where it became known for hosting many events and social gatherings for members of the club. At some point the club ceased operations and a formal rowing club didn’t reappear until rowing enthusiast David Sellars helped establish a new club in 1970, under the name Windsor Rowing Club.
The first location of the new club was at Red’s Marina in LaSalle on the Detroit River. Sellars was a five-time Canadian National Champion and three-time Royal Canadian Henley Regatta Champion who brought a tremendous amount of experience to the club. In addition to helping found the club, he served a long stint as Club President from 1982-94. The Sellars Family, including David’s two sons Bob and Doug, were key figures within the Windsor rowing scene for many years after its inception. When it first opened, Bob and Doug were both high school students at Sandwich S.S., and a successful rowing program at the school was soon established. The high school teams in that era were some of the best that club has ever produced and even won a few medals at the Royal Canadian Henley Regatta.
Other major contributors to the club’s success in its early years included members Tricia Bondy, Brian Schwab, Mark Semande, and Eva Meloche. Schwab joined the club in 1975 and was a long-time member who rowed at Western and won several championships on the national stage. He eventually took over as President after the end of Sellars tenure in 1994. Another member of the Sellars family, James R. Sellars, and Michael Tebruegge were also key factors in the club’s long-term sustainability as they fundraised over $200,000 from 1991-96. These funds were crucial as they allowed LaSalle to purchase much of the equipment it still uses to this day.
As the 1990’s progressed, the membership demographic at the club began to shift as they transitioned to more of a recreational club. In 1995, the club was re-named the LaSalle Rowing Club to represent the community in Windsor where it’s located. By that time, the club had also moved into a new boat house at 40 Laurier Drive and in 2011 moved just down the road to 1 Laurier Drive where they currently reside.
“Our club house is about a 100m back from the water on the Detroit River,” said Kevin Nyman, current President of LaSalle Rowing Club. “Where we row, we’re protected by an island from the main channel and we have about a 7km course so we stick to rowing in there. Our season usually starts in May and by the end of October we start to wrap it up. We’ve gone into November a few times, but it’s usually October when we get off the water due to the cold weather.”
One unique aspect about the LaSalle Rowing Club is its location, as it is the southernmost rowing club in Canada. Its closest neighbouring club in Ontario is the London Rowing Club, approximately a two-hour drive East on the 401. However, there are plenty of other clubs a short distance away right across the border in Detroit, Michigan. The Motor City has a long and storied history in rowing and currently has four clubs in operation, including the oldest club in North America, the Detroit Boat Club Crew, which was founded in 1839. For many years LaSalle has travelled across the border to compete against the Detroit clubs in friendly races and different regattas and continue to compete in the ‘Mayor’s Cup’, a friendly competition against the Detroit Boat Club Crew with bragging rights on the line.
It’s an easy sport to get people hooked, people fall in love with rowing pretty quickKevin Nyman, Current President
While the club has continued to be in operation for 50 years it hasn’t always been easy, particularly in recent years. A slow decline in the interest in rowing in the area led to waning membership numbers in the last decade. Just two years ago, LaSalle was in a real danger of closing with only 12 active members. The club did some much-needed re-strategizing on how to grow their membership base and in the last few years their hard work has paid off as they’ve experienced a huge turnaround. Last year the club had 70 members, an almost 600% increase from just over a year earlier. Nyman attributes the growth to a lot of hard work by the club’s Board and loyal members as well as an investment in introducing the sport to new rowers.
“A lot of people involved with the club have stepped up and taken on bigger roles in the last few years,” said Nyman. “We’ve done both the ‘Come Try It Days’ with RCA and the ‘Get Out on the Water Days’ through the COAST program which have both been successful. It’s an easy sport to get people hooked, people fall in love with rowing pretty quick so once they come in they’re likely to come back and continue rowing. It’s a just a matter of getting them down here and getting them in a boat and those days were a great way for us to introduce rowing to people in the area.”
LaSalle has also made an effort to return to their competitive roots by focusing on developing a competitive junior program. Of the 70 members last year, 18 were junior-aged athletes who trained all year round. The majority of the current membership is masters rowers and plans to develop a competitive masters program is also in the works for a few years down the road. In addition to expanded programming, the club has also started to attend some indoor events in Ontario and the U.S. and were planning on attending regattas this Summer prior to the season being cancelled.
“This was the year we really wanted to get our competitive program off the ground and start attending events,” said Nyman. “It was funny, when we were at the Ontario Indoor Championships earlier in the year, we had other clubs coming up to us saying we haven’t seen you guys in years! It was really nice to hear that they remembered us, and we plan to continue to come to these events in the future as our club continues to grow.”
With a long of rowing in the Windsor area and solid, if not exponential, growth in the last few years, the LaSalle Rowing Club seems poised for a breakout on the provincial stage in the near future and has designs on sticking around for another 50 years.
“We’re kind of a middle of the pack club right now, we fly a bit under the radar,” said Nyman. “But we’re growing, and we think we’re doing all right things to be successful. We’re getting out there more and hopefully we’ll be a club to look out for in the future.”
Thank you to Kevin Nyman for his generous contributions and help in completing this profile. Photos are property of the LaSalle Rowing Club.