Getting to Know the St. Catharines 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 St. Catharines Rowing Club!
St. Catharines Rowing Club
Location: Henley Island – Martindale Pond
The St. Catharines Rowing Club (SCRC) has become synonymous with rowing in Ontario and Canada, but when the club first started, they didn’t envision themselves becoming a rowing power. In fact, they never really envisioned themselves becoming a rowing club at all.
Starting with its founding in 1880 until 1902, the Canadian Association of Amateur Oarsmen (CAAO, who later became Rowing Canada Aviron) were hosting their Annual Regatta at various locations across Ontario. They visited Toronto, Hamilton, Barrie, Brockville and even ventured to Lachine, Quebec in search of an ideal venue to host a regatta but kept running into the same issues. Currents, waves and winds led to cancellations and postponements. They were looking for a reliable venue to put down roots and host the Annual Regatta in the same location each year. A member of their Board of Directors suggested looking at the Old Welland Canal as an option, and once they did their research they became enthralled with the enclosed waterway and glass-like water conditions. The CAAO met with city council who were on board with the idea, but there was just one problem. St. Catharines didn’t have a rowing club, which was a requirement of hosting the regatta.
So on April 2, 1903, the St. Catharines Rowing and Canoe Club was formed, purely for the purpose of hosting and organizing the Annual Regatta. The name ‘Annual Regatta’ was quickly dropped and the first Royal Canadian Henley Regatta was hosted by the club on August 7-8, 1903.
In those early years the members of the St. Catharines Rowing and Canoe Club would join strictly for recreation. No members of the club would participate at Henley for a number of years as its level of rowing was highly competitive. Canoeing was one of the favourite past times of St. Catharines area residents at the time, so in order to appeal to a broader base a decision was made at the time of incorporation to include a canoeing component within the club. The rowing component of the club was helped by the Argonaut Rowing Club, who donated a couple of work boat fours to give the club its first rowing fleet.
The first half of the 1900’s was an interesting time for the SCRC, one that was full of peaks and valleys. The club hosted many successful Henley Regattas and in 1908, the first victory by a club member at Henley was won by the junior work boat four and more first place finishes were earned in 1913 and 1914. In 1915, the club hosted the 13th Royal Canadian Henley Regatta, but any momentum the club had going was scuttled by the First World War.
“One hundred and nineteen members from the club served in the war, 23 of whom were killed,” said Stan Lapinski, St. Catharines Rowing Club historian. “All rowing stopped between 1916-18 because of the war and some time during the winter in those years the boat house was destroyed by a combination of ice, snow and neglect. The club essentially vanished for a few years until 1921, when some former members formed the Niagara District Aquatic Club, which appealed to a broader base with different sports like hockey and basketball. It wasn’t until 1926 that the St. Catharines Rowing Club name was used again.”
When the club started back up, the number of members was small and the successes were few for the first several years. But in the 1940’s the SCRC really began to find its footing among the elite clubs and started to turn into a rowing powerhouse. The members brought home a few Henley gold medals during the 1920’s and 1930’s but their dominance began in 1946 when the club claimed victories in both the junior and senior 145 lbs eights and the junior 155 lbs eight. The head coach during this time was Russ Wood, who was instrumental in helping turn the fortunes of the club around. Wood coached from 1935-54 and remained in an advisory capacity until 1959.
Wood coached a number of elite level rowers during his time at the club, including Harvey Hutcheon, who won the high school single at Henley in 1937, the first year the event was held, Greg and Frank Murphy, a pair of brothers who had a dominant 1948 season, winning the high school double at Henley, the Canadian High School Championships and the US High School Championships, and Bob ‘Rupe’ Humphries who was involved in 10 of the clubs 57 wins at Henley during his career from 1948-57. Another rower whom Wood coached at the tail end of his coaching career was Neil Campbell, who began rowing with SCRC in 1953. Campbell would go on to become one the club’s most decorated members, winning more than a dozen titles at Henley, and competing for Canada at international regattas, World Championships, the Pan Am Games and two Olympics (1964 and 1968). Following his rowing career, Campbell would go on to a successful coaching career and led the Canadian men’s eight to gold at the 1984 Olympics.
Throughout the 1970’s and 1980’s, St. Catharines remained a Canadian rowing power and started to see some success through its second-generation rowers. Frank Murphy, who was coached by his father Greg, stormed onto the scene in 1976 and in a career that lasted over 25 years won more than two dozen Henley medals (many of which came with brother John in doubles or quads) including six in 1983 alone. Tom Kent was another successful SCRC product, winning over 20 races at major North American regattas between 1973-89 that included setting a course record at the US Nationals and finishing in fourth place at the FISA Lightweight Rowing Championships in 1981. As women’s rowing began to gain popularity, the club also developed a strong women’s program during this time. The SCRC had actually started a women’s program years earlier in 1947 and had two full women’s crews by 1948. But the program was abandoned after that season due to a lack of competition from other clubs. Wendy Wiebe was one of the standout performers from the club throughout the 1980’s and early 1990’s, winning two bronze medals at the FISA Lightweight World Championships and three consecutive gold medals with partner Colleen Miller from 1993-95. She capped off her career by competing with Miller at the 1996 Olympics and was named to the SCRC’s ‘Dream Crew’ in 2003 (see more on the Dream Crew below)
In recent years, the club has continued to churn out world level talent, including Olympians Chris Taylor (2000), Buffy Alexander-Williams (2000, 2004, 2008), Chris Jarvis (2004), Natalie Mastracci (2012, 2016), Tim Schrijver (2016) and Matt Buie (2016). Alexander-Williams and Mastracci both picked up Olympic medals, with Alexander-Williams winning a bronze in the women’s eight in 2000 and Mastracci taking home a silver in the women’s eight in 2012. There have also been many athletes and coaches from the SCRC who have represented Canada at various national and international competitions including the Commonwealth Games, Pan Am Games, FISA World Championships, CanAmMex International Regatta and the Canada Summer Games.
During the time after World War I when the St. Catharines Rowing Club wasn’t in operation, the Henley Aquatic Association was formed and took over the hosting of the Royal Canadian Henley Regatta and other regattas that flocked to the Henley course such as the CSSRA Championships, multiple Olympic Trials, The Centennial Regatta in 1967, and many other smaller regattas throughout the years. Major international events have been brought to St. Catharines over the years as well, including two FISA World Championships (with a third planned for 2024), the Masters World Championships and the FISU University Games (Buffalo – 1993). Many of the SCRC club members continue to compete in the annual regattas to this day and just last year over 100 members competed at Henley. The SCRC has also continuously improved its infrastructure off the water on Henley Island over the years, as there have been five different boat houses built since its inception in 1903.
Presently, the St. Catharines Rowing Club is an all service club and one of the largest in Canada with over 800 members annually. While the SCRC continues to produce elite level talent and host world class events, they have also stayed on top of the demand for diversified programming and offer programs for rowers of all skill levels and experience. To help introduce the sport of rowing to youths in the St. Catharines area, the club offers a learn to row youth rowing school for males and females 10-14 years old as well as an advanced school for the ages of 12-17 years old. They also have strong connections with high schools in the area, with programming in nine secondary schools.
In addition to programming for youths and high school students, the SCRC also runs a very popular recreational rowing league for adults. The league is designed for participation and fun and it is available to anyone who has an interest in rowing, regardless of experience. Certified coaches are provided to the participants and typically runs in two sessions (June/July and August/September) throughout the Summer. The competitive programs at the club have also continued to grow as the SCRC now has competitive programming for Senior, Junior, Masters and Para athletes.
After 117 years the St. Catharines Rowing Club is still going strong. From their inception in 1903, they had the eyes of the rowing community on them and in many ways they still do today. Through the ups and downs of the early years, their ascendance to one of the premier rowing clubs in Canada, and their continued excellence in present day, the club has shown resiliency, vision, and leadership. There have been countless members, volunteers, coaches, umpires, regatta organizers and board members who have contributed to the success of the club and helped build it into what it is today. The SCRC shows no signs of slowing down and will continue to be one of the leaders in the sport for many, many years to come.
St. Catharines Rowing Club Dream Crew (2003)
Bow: Alan Greenwood
Alan Greenwood began as a sweep oarsman in 1909, and rowed until 1915. In 1914, he won the Junior Single – the first win in a racing shell by a member of the St. Catharines Rowing and Canoe Club. He was the Club’s physician from the early 1930s to the early 1950s.
2: Harvey Hutcheon
Harvey Hutcheon began sculling in 1937, and won the High School Single that year – the first time it was an event at Henley. In 1938, he won the Senior Single at the U.S. High School Championships. The Junior Single at Henley followed in 1939, the Association Single in 1940, and the Quarter-Mile Dash Open Single in 1941. He continued sculling until 1944.
3: Greg Murphy
Greg Murphy rowed 6-seat in the St. Catharines Collegiate eight which won the High School Eight at the 1946 Henley – the first Collegiate win in that event. He then turned to sculling with his brother Frank. In 1948, they won the Double at the U.S. High School Championships, the Canadian Double and the Open Double at the Canadian High School Championships, and the High School Double at Henley. He had success as both a sculler and sweep oarsman until 1956. When his children were old enough to row, he began his career as a successful sculling coach.
4: Bob ‘Rupe’ Humphries
Bob ‘Rupe’ Humphries rowed from 1948 to 1957, and won medals in a variety of events from Intermediate 145 lb. Four, which he stroked in 1950, to the Senior 135 lb. Eight in 1957. During the years which his career spanned, he was involved in ten of the fifty-seven Henley wins which Club crews earned.
5: Neil Campbell
Neil Campbell began rowing in 1953. Between 1955 and 1968, he was in more that a dozen crews which won at the Canadian Henley, the American Henley, the U.S. Nationals, and crews which represented Canada at international regattas, such as the World Rowing Championships, Pan American Games, and two Olympic Games. In 1961, he was in the first Club crew to win the Championship Eight at Henley. One of the highlights of his career as a coach was his 1970 Ridley College eight which won at the Canadian High School Championships, the U.S. High School Championships, and the Princess Elizabeth Challenge Cup at the English Henley. Another coaching highlight was his Canadian men’s eight which won gold at the 1984 Olympics.
6: Tom Kent
Tom Kent first wore Club colours in a Junior 135 lb. Eight at the 1971 Henley. Between 1973 and 1989, he won over twenty races at all the major North American regattas, mostly as a sweep oarsman, and often in stroke-seat, but he also had success as a sculler. The Senior 155 lb. Eight crew which he stroked in 1977, rowed at the English Henley, won at the Canadian Championships, the Canadian Henley, and the U.S. Nationals, setting a course record. In 1981, he stroked a lightweight eight which won the Championship Eight at Henley, and placed fourth at the FISA Lightweight Championships.
7: Frank Murphy
Frank Murphy, coached by his father Greg, began sculling for the Club in 1976, and won the Junior 145 lb. Double. His last Henley win was in the 500 Metre Dash Men’s Single in 2001. In between, he won more that two dozen Henley medals, often with his brother John, in doubles and quads. In 1983 alone, he won six Henley medals.
Stroke: Wendy Wiebe
Wendy Wiebe’s Club career began as a sweep oarswoman in 1981. In 1984, she was in two-seat of the Henley-winning 500 Metre Dash Women’s Eight which also won a bronze medal at the FISA Lightweight Championships. In 1989, she switched to sculling, and won the Open Lightweight Women’s Single at Henley. In 1990, she won a bronze medal in the Women’s Lightweight Double at the World Rowing Championships, then, in 1993, after winning the Women’s Lightweight Single at the World University Games, and the Elite Double at Henley, she and Colleen Miller began a string of three consecutive wins at the World Rowing Championships in the Women’s Lightweight Double. She retired in 1996.
Coxie: Don Thom
Don Thom was only active as a coxie for three seasons, 1929 to 1931, and he only won one Henley race, the 1929 Junior Eight event, but that was the first ever win by a Club eight at Henley. He was known for his arrow-straight courses, and when the Club’s senior coxie moved out of town in 1931, he was chosen as his replacement. In 1945, he returned to the Club as president and is generally credited with having saved the Club from dissolution. Under his guidance, the Club experienced a revival. He remained active in the Club until the late 1940s, but continued his association with rowing for several more years in other capacities.
Coach: Russ Wood
Russ Wood first sat in a Club boat in 1929. He stroked the Club’s first Henley-winning lightweight eight in 1932, in the Junior 150 lb. Eight race. His rowing career ended in 1934, but his coaching career began in 1935 and continued to 1954. Several of those years were as the Club’s head coach. He continued to serve in an advisory capacity until 1959. Among hundreds of others, he coached three members of this crew: Harvey Hutcheon, Greg Murphy, and Neil Campbell. He also served a tern as Club president, but his involvement extended further. He was president of the Canadian Secondary Schools Rowing Association, the Henley Aquatic Association, and the Canadian Association of Amateur Oarsmen.
Thank you to Stan Lapinski, Rick Crooker and Mark Welsh for their generous contributions and help in completing this profile. Photos are property of the St. Catharines Rowing Club or Stan Lapinski.