Getting to Know the Notre Dame 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 Notre Dame Rowing Club!
Notre Dame Rowing Club
Location: Welland, Ont.
Located in the rowing-rich Niagara region, the Notre Dame Rowing Club has been a part of the Welland community for the last 12 years.
The club is housed in the Welland Community Boathouse on the banks of the Welland Canal. One of the best locations for rowing in the country, the banks of the canal keep the waters calm and protects the rowers from the elements. The club’s members, who can typically stay on the water from March until December until the water freezes over, enjoy the scenic waterway which allows them to row underneath several bridges and past the Welland City Hall.
The club was established in 2010 and founded by a group of rowing enthusiasts including Club President Richard TenDon, David Pelette, Terry Andrews, and Diane Chivers. All four of the founding members were hugely influential in building the club, from physically constructing the boathouse, to liaising with the City of Welland, to coaching at the club and setting up club programs. In addition to TenDon, Pelette, Andrews and Chivers there were also countless volunteers who pitched in time and effort into getting the club off the ground in its early years. Following TenDon’s departure as Club President, Pelette served as President for several years and at the conclusion of his term served as the club’s head coach.
From the beginning, the Notre Dame Rowing Club was strongly associated with the Notre Dame College School, a high school located just over a kilometre from the boat house. Its proximity makes for an easy commute for the high school rowers to come for practice. After several years in operation however, the club started to experience a decline in membership, and its once burgeoning high school program was struggling to stay afloat. Monica and George Barkwell, two members of the club’s Executive Board, worked extremely hard during these difficult times to keep the club together.
“The Barkwells and several others worked very hard at the executive level to keep the club going through some really difficult circumstances,” said Dennis Zahorchak, the club’s current President. “At one time we only had six rowers at the club. We had to change our philosophy a little bit and put an emphasis on attracting youth rowers to the club. That was where our future opportunities to grow the club were and for the last few years, we’ve really tried to focus on that.”
Despite the interruptions of the 2020 and 2021 rowing seasons due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the focus on youth rowing has paid off. This summer alone the club is on track to have over 100 youth rowers in their learn-to-row program, with many expected to stay on with the club and continue to row in other programs. The club has also expanded to include EL Crossley, one of the top high school programs in the country, and one of the main on-course rivals of Notre Dame College School, rowing out of its boathouse.
“We took EL Crossley into our boathouse and they started to row with us during the school season,” said Zahorchak. “We essentially combined two clubs. We weren’t sure how it was going to go with two competing schools in the same boathouse, but it’s worked flawlessly. In club season, there are no schools, and they are just rowing together like regular club members. It’s been a big success for us having more members on the dock. Pat McNally is now one of our senior coaches and he has a lot of years and experience, and so has John Ruscitti, who is head coach at EL Crossley and also coaches the club level. So, we have a lot more knowledge on our dock.”
Another one of the club’s coaches who adds a lot of knowledge to the dock is Rhiannon Zahorchak, the club’s head coach. Rhiannon is a former Notre Dame rower who went on to row at Brock University before turning to coaching. She’s been a key reason for the influx of youth rowers over the last several years by creating a welcoming culture for new rowers and establishing strong relationships with the members. The club has also started several fun social initiatives for its members, including a ‘Glow Row’ which sees the members row at night down the Welland Canal with the boats adorned with glow sticks lighting up their route. The Glow Row attracted spectators and was featured in an article in the Welland Tribune.
While the club has focused on attracting youth and junior-aged rowers the last few years, they are still a full-service club with programs for all segments of the rowing population including senior, masters and adult recreational.
“We have pretty much all the programs and we’re looking at starting up our para program again,” said Dennis Zahorchak. “With our learn-to-row programs, we find that the people who sign up enjoy it so much that we don’t have a lot of drop off, they continue and keep rowing at the club. I think that speaks to the coaches and how good a job they are doing introducing the sport and helping the rowers love it.”
Some of the club’s high school rowers have moved on to the next level of the sport as well. Preston Darling, Alessio Perco and Malarie Jones all won gold medals at the 2022 Canada Summer Games in August. Lucas Maroney, Madeson Scott and Stella Bittman have all rowed out of the Ontario NextGen Performance Centre and have been on top of the podium at several events this year, including the Row Ontario Small Boat Regatta, CSSRA Championships, and Canada Games. All three also competed at the 2022 World Rowing Under-19 Championships in Varese, Italy at the end of July.
The club has also further established a unique connection between rowing and Notre Dame School. Beginning this year, a new rowing course will be taught at the school that Rhiannon was instrumental in getting approved with the school board. The club has been working with the school board for close to a decade to get the course approved and after the course curriculum was re-written it became a fully accredited course, a huge step forward for rowing at the school level. Within the first week registration opened the course was at capacity and a full complement of new ergs are ready for the students at Notre Dame to use and learn about rowing in the coming school year.
With a growing membership the Notre Dame Rowing Club shows no signs of slowing down. There are even plans to potentially expand their boathouse to continue the great job they’ve done to this point in growing the sport of rowing in the Welland-area.
Thank you to Dennis Zahorchak for his generous contributions and help in completing this profile. Photos are property of the Notre Dame Rowing Club.