Getting to Know the Ottawa New Edinburgh 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 Ottawa New Edinburgh Club!
The Ottawa New Edinburgh Club, known as ONEC, has a long and storied history in the Ottawa region as one of the oldest, multi-sport clubs in Canada. ONEC was first established in 1883 as the Ottawa Canoe Club on the banks of the Ottawa River. For its first 11 years in operation, the Club was located at the foot of the Rideau Canal locks near Parliament Hill and then relocated two miles downstream near the Governor General’s residence in 1894.
After a large fire destroyed the boathouse in 1922, the Club acquired a lot further downstream with plans for a new beginning. By 1925, the building of a magnificent new boathouse was completed, where it remains to this day. Membership soared to over a thousand patrons and on warm summer evenings they could be found dancing the night away, attending dinners and admiring the sunset over the Ottawa River with the Gatineau Hills in the background, all from the second-floor balcony running the entire length of the 119 foot building.
The success of the Club would not go on forever. A number of factors contributed to a diminishing membership, including the cutting of streetcar service to the club in 1932, the Great Depression and the construction of the Rockcliffe Parkway which forced the relocation of the tennis courts in the 1950’s. Thankfully, construction of new clay courts, the growing popularity of sailing and community support reenergized the Club, producing significant gains in membership during the 1970’s and 1980’s.
ONEC’s first known rower was D’Arcy Scott, who won multiple Canoe Championship titles and later found success as a rower in the 1890’s. Scott would also go on to become Mayor of Ottawa. It would not be until exactly 100 years later that ONEC Rowing, as it is known today, was established by a solitary rower looking for a place to store his boat and a supportive board of directors looking to expand programming. In 1996, ONEC bought its first scull and over the next five years rowing infrastructure and membership expanded thanks to a dedicated and hardworking Rowing Director – Richard Vincent. Shortly after, a learn to scull program was developed with a focus on teaching sculling with stable water touring singles, most of which are still around today and used for youth rowing camps hosted every summer at the boathouse. By 2002, the rowing membership had tripled thanks to new docks built one section at a time by an enthusiastic group of volunteers. This same year Norma Strachan, now head coach, joined the ONEC crew and further expanded the instructional programming along with John Boyd a former UK National Team rower.
“Learning to row in stable water singles has become a popular way for rowers in Ottawa to become acquainted with the sport,” said Strachan who first fell in love with the historic boathouse after it caught her eye on morning bike rides along the Ottawa River pathway. The ONEC approach to teaching rowing in addition to a love for the outdoors naturally progressed to a strong touring program that has grown over the years with adventures offered by the Club on the Ottawa River, waterways of Ontario and even internationally.
Joan Robertson and Liane Bell are co-chairs of ONEC’s touring program and along with their adventurous committee are always hard at work looking for new places to explore.
“Participating in group rows and tours are a big part of the ONEC experience,” said Robertson. “Whether you’re a novice or experienced rower, tours allow you to improve your rowing skills, stay fit and get to know the waterways of Ontario and beyond. At the end of the day after a long row, it’s fun to sit and relax with a great group of friends over an incredible meal.”
By the mid-2000’s, membership had really taken off and rowing was permanently established as one of ONEC’s primary sports along with the ever-popular tennis and sailing programs. Twenty-five years later, founding members are often seen at the boathouse sharing stories and heading off for their next row along the expansive Ottawa River. The location of the club is also very unique and adds to the experience of rowing at the club.
“You’re in the middle of a big city, but when you’re out on the water you would never know it,” said Susan Smith, ONEC’s current Rowing Director. “When you get out there in the morning and the water is calm, it’s an unbelievable setting. You can see deer on the island, otters swimming by and birds diving to get fish. It seems like a little bit of the country in the city.”
“At our location on the river you can head over to Kettle Island, a designated nature reserve completely free from development,” said John Moore, one of ONEC’s newer members and recent graduate of the learn to scull program. “The channel between the island and the Quebec shoreline offers beautifully flat and calm waters and is too narrow for the larger yachts and the wakes that follow. When you row in the other direction you can go visit our friends at the Ottawa Rowing Club and end up with a beautiful view of the city skyline and impressive views of the Parliament Buildings. It’s pretty spectacular and fun to share the water with another rowing club and see them out on the river or going by the ONEC boathouse.”
“One of the reasons I wanted to join ONEC was the boathouse,” continued Moore. “It’s incredible and only one of four of its kind in Canada. It sits out over the river like a small island, with a bridge connecting to the shore. I think rowers see their boathouse as a second home in a way, and we can’t wait to move back in after a major restoration currently underway by the National Capital Commission is completed. It’s really starting to look impressive, like I imagine it did back in 1923.”
One of ONEC’s annual events that they are very proud of is the Canadian Sculling Marathon. Moore took over in 2019 from long time co-chairs Gillian Williamson and Richard Vincent. On water marathon distance events in rowing are rare these days. ONEC offers a unique experience for rowers looking to challenge themselves in a different way to the now better known 2000m sprint and all the while rowing along one of Canada’s great rivers with incredible views of the Capital. The event was founded in 2005 and has since seen many rowing clubs from Ontario participate and has even drawn endurance rowers from international locations such as New England, New York State, Texas, California, Australia, Switzerland, Germany and Mexico.
In addition to the Canadian Sculling Marathon, ONEC hosts a number of other events to keep their members engaged over the course of the year. Johnathan Morris organizes the Three Buoys Race each summer. The race uses navigational river buoys with the competitors racing around them like in a coastal event. “The event is held on three separate weekends over the summer and in addition to being a race it is a great way for members to check in on their personal progress from the beginning to the end of the season,” said Morris. “Afterwards there is always a fun time and usually some home baked goods, which ONEC rowers feel are a must at all rowing events.”
ONEC also prides itself in being a very social club and many of their programs and events have a social component.
“One example of social events we run for our members is what we call our group rows,” said Smith. “For group rows, members sign up and come down for an evening of rowing and afterwards meet back at the boathouse for a barbecue, beer and good company out on the upper balcony. Our goal is not to find the next Olympic rower, we’re more about rowing for fitness and rowing for life.”
ONEC also organizes an event to coincide with the Gatineau hot air balloon festival each year that sees rowers gather in a flotilla of shells on the water and watch as the balloons of all shapes and colours drift across the skyline. In the winter months, ONEC member Alistair Hensler organizes participation in a January Erg challenge run by Concept 2. There is also a February challenge complete with a leaderboard to track cross country skiing, snowshoeing, trekking and skating distances to help keep their members connected and feeling healthy during Ottawa’s snowy winters. The Club is also planning on re-establishing a Masters Program that will focus on preparing rowers for Ontario’s head races, the club’s favourite being the Head of the Madawaska hosted by the Burnstown Rowing Club.
“ONEC loves to make an appearance every year on the beautiful Madawaska River” said Moore. “It’s a great way for our rowers who are excited about getting out there and making friends at other clubs while experiencing the competitive world of racing at a friendly and well organized regatta. Over the past few years, we’ve chosen bright fluorescent colours for our rowers and you can see them coming from halfway down the river.”
The future looks bright for ONEC as they continue to expand on their programming and remain an integral part of the Ottawa sports community for all ages.
“We’ve come a long way and this year we’re excited to be celebrating 25 years of rowing at ONEC,” said Moore. “We’re looking forward to the next 25 years and beyond in our restored heritage boathouse.”
Once the boathouse is complete, its members will once again be able to spend time socializing and watching the sunsets over the Ottawa river following their evening rows.
“ONEC prides itself on being a very inclusive club,” said Smith. “Our members are very welcoming, and often develop lifelong friendships. The boathouse always feels full of history and energy and is a meeting ground for all sports who come together on summer evenings. It’s a great place to be a member.”
This profile was written by John Moore and Frank Christie. Thank you to John Moore, Susan Smith, Richard Vincent, Norma Strachan, Joan Robertson, Jonathan Morris their generous contributions and help in completing this profile. Photos are property of the Ottawa New Edinburgh Club.