Getting to Know the Peterborough Rowing Club
Club Profile/ Nov 19

Getting to Know the Peterborough 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 Peterborough Rowing Club!

Peterborough Rowing Club
Established: 1973
Location: Peterborough, Ont. 

Located in the north end of Peterborough at the junction of the Otonabee River and Trent Canal, adjacent to Trent University, the Peterborough Rowing Club was officially formed in 1973 as an offshoot of the rowing program at the University.

Trent’s rowing program was started in 1969 by Chris Leach, who’s considered the founding father of rowing in Peterborough. Leach was originally from St. Catharines and rowed for Canada at the 1960 and 1964 Olympics before coming to Trent as a mature student. He saw the unique waterway that existed around Trent and approached the university about starting a rowing program. After begging and borrowing some boats from a few clubs including the Argonaut Rowing Club, rowing at Trent University was born. With experience growing up in St. Catharines and seeing first-hand the benefits of community engagement, Leach set his sights on establishing a local club. The goal was to introduce the sport to the youth of the city through the formation of high school rowing which would act as a feeder to Trent Rowing. Many of the university students from out of town would also stay in the area during the summer and row at the Club. Based on this, the Peterborough Rowing Club was born.

The water the PRC rows on is unique with over 5km of rowing through a river and a 100-year-old canal, leading to the famous Peterborough Lift Lock, part of the Trent-Severn waterway. The Canal’s sheltered features provide some of the best training water in the country. Club members are typically able to row from April until mid-November.

In the early years, Chris remained the driving force behind both the PRC and Trent Rowing. Recognised to be an individual of independent nature, the Club naturally assumed a similar character and was at times known as a bit of a maverick in Ontario rowing circles. Chris promoted a general club philosophy of work hard, play hard, and perhaps most importantly, race hard. Sitting around a campfire one night Leach and a small group of athletes were seeking an inspirational club motto when the radio played a Tanya Tucker song, ‘Lizzie and the Rainman’ with the catch phrase ‘Step Back Non-Believers’. They searched no further. While the PRC has grown since the 1970’s in both size and breadth of program offerings, there remains that positive, work hard, race hard and have fun, ‘Step Back Non-Believers’ spirit at the Club to this day.

A major event in the early 1980’s which provided the PRC with long term stability, was successful negotiation by a few key club members of a long-term lease with Trent University of the property upon which the boathouse stands. At the time, boats were stored in a one-bay, wooden structure. Once the land was secured, a sizable donation from the Peterborough Kinsmen Club together active engagement in bingo and a great deal of volunteer effort lead by Craig Allan, Graham Wilkins and Terry Kelly enabled the Club to build a one story, five-bay boathouse including an insulated work bay. In 2004, a second floor was added to provide meeting and change rooms and an ergometer/weight training area.

From the beginning, the Peterborough Rowing Club has maintained a very strong connection with Trent University. The PRC is the RCA/Row Ontario registered club with Trent Rowing as a large program within the Club, while being a major sport at Trent. Trent rowers that remain in the community in the summer compete as members of the PRC while the Head Coach holds that roll simultaneously for both the Club and Trent Rowing. The PRC also works actively with the Trent University Rowing Club (TURC), the student based body and a primary force behind rowing at Trent. This arrangement enables strong coordination between club and university programs as well as support for the sport across the Peterborough community.

Another important collaboration between the PRC and Trent University has been the hosting of the famed Head of the Trent Regatta. The HOTR typically takes place each year on the first weekend of October. It has grown into one of the larger one-day head races in North America and has been run together with the University’s homecoming for many years. The first edition of the event was spearheaded by Leach in 1971, featuring rowers from Trent and a small selection of other Ontario universities. Initially, the regatta was run by TURC who hosted a very popular beer garden at the same time. In 1979, the PRC took over running of the regatta, to enable Trent rowers to focus on the social events. With the 2020 event cancelled due to Covid, the 50th HOTR was run in 2021 with a record number of entries.

Early in the 2000s, the PRC reached the decision to maintain its vision as a community sports club offering a full range of experiences; from youth and adult recreational rowing to Junior, U23, Club and Masters competitive. Over close to fifty years of operation, the Club’s activities have ranged from helping place members on Olympic and world podiums to introducing people to the joys of moving smoothly on a calm body of water.

Thank you to Brian Love and everyone at the Peterborough Rowing Club for their generous contributions and help in completing this profile. Photos are property of the Peterborough Rowing Club.