Row Ontario History

Row Ontario History

History at a Glance

Rowing has been practiced competitively and recreationally in Ontario for over 150 years. The increasing urbanization and prosperity of Upper Canada in the mid-nineteenth century, combined with the advent of the press and the telegraph, created a class of men who were at leisure to practice rowing and to gamble on the outcomes of races between professional scullers.

Clubs began to be formed in Ottawa, Toronto, Brockville and other centres, largely for the members of the business classes in order to engage in healthy amateur sport and to further develop social bonds. At the same time, sculler Ned Hanlan of Toronto captured the national imagination by claiming the world rowing championship in 1880, thus becoming Canada’s first world champion of anything.

By the turn of the 20th century, rowing in Ontario had expanded sufficiently to allow for the development of major inter-club regattas such as the Dominion Day Regatta in Toronto and the Canadian Henley Regatta in St. Catharines (later to receive Royal designation). Through the first half of the 1900s, Ontario rowers took the lead in representing Canada internationally at the Olympic Games, an indication of the Provinces primacy in Canadian rowing.

Following the Second World War, Ontario clubs started to organize themselves more formally with the creation of the rowing associations in the Eastern, Central and North Western regions of the province. With increasing government interest and involvement in sport in the 1960s came the inception of, in 1969, an Ontario Rowing Championship and, in 1970, the formation of the Ontario Rowing Association. This coincided with the hosting in St. Catharines of the World Rowing Championships that year.

At its inception, the Ontario Rowing Association (whose trade name became Row Ontario in 2001) had nine member clubs and some 500 active rowers. The intervening five decades have seen the steady increase in the number of member clubs, the addition of women’s rowing, and a broadening of the sports reach beyond competition to include recreational, para, coastal/beach sprints, indoor and touring rowing.

Row Ontario Retrospective

In honour of our 50th anniversary, which took place in 2020, we put together a seven-part retrospective series on the history of Row Ontario and the Ontario rowing community. This series is a celebration of all the volunteers, coaches, umpires, athletes, parents, regatta organizers and many more who have worked so hard over the years to build the sport of rowing in our province.

They say it takes a village to raise one child. To build the sport of rowing in Ontario it took the whole province.

Row Ontario Retrospective Stories:

Before the Ontario Rowing Association

The First 25 Years

The History of Umpiring in Ontario

The Elite Ontario Rowers

The History of Coaching in Ontario 

The Second 25 Years

The Next 50 Years

Bonus Retrospective: The History of Lightweight Rowing

Row Ontario 50th Anniversary Honours

In honour of Row Ontario’s 50th anniversary we celebrated just some of the many athletes, coaches, umpires and builders who have contributed greatly to rowing in Ontario throughout the history of the sport. Please find the gallery below with all the honourees!

Follow us on Facebook or Instagram to see the profiles written on these AMAZING contributors!

Leadership History

Row Ontario Presidents:

Max McDonald – 1970-73 (London Rowing Club)
Wes Kuran – 1973-77 (Brockville Rowing Club)
Roger Sellars – 1977-81 (Windsor Crew)
Bud Malmo – 1981-82 (Kenora Rowing Club)
Pat Hughes – 1982-85 (St. Catharines Rowing Club)
Mike Murphy – 1985-89 (London Rowing Club)
Jeff Reitberger – 1989-93 (Thunder Bay Rowing Club)
Peter King – 1993-96 (Ottawa Rowing Club)
Wayne De Haitre – 1996-2000 (Quinte Rowing Club)
Bruce Gibson – 2000-02 (Tillsonburg Rowing Club)
Giselle Chiasson – 2002-03 (Thunder Bay Rowing Club)
George Barkwell – 2003-05 (South Niagara Rowing Club)
Mike Thompson – 2005-06 (St. Catharines Rowing Club)
Lynda Dundas – 2006-11 (Don Rowing Club)
Tom Blacquiere – 2011-16 (South Niagara Rowing Club)
Chris Waddell – 2016-2020 (Ottawa Rowing Club)
Pippa Hobbes – 2020-2023 (Argonaut Rowing Club)
Peter Van Rooijen – 2023-Present (St. Catharines)

Row Ontario Executive Directors:

Dave Derry – 1987-2000
Susan Kitchen (interim) – 2000
Patrick Okens – 2000-06
Derek Ventnor – 2006-17
Andrew Backer – 2017-Present

Fun Historical Facts:

  • The Ontario Rowing Association (ORA) was created in 1970, one year after the first Ontario Rowing Championships were held in St. Catharines
  • The ORA became the 56th sport organization to become a member of Sport Ontario, joining other sport organizations from across the province
  • The first Row Ontario ‘office’ was in London, Ont., at President Max McDonald’s house
  • The ORA had nine member clubs in 1970 – Argonaut Rowing Club, Brockville Rowing Club, Don Rowing Club, Leander Boat Club, London Rowing Club, Kenora Rowing Club, Ottawa Rowing Club, St. Catharines Rowing Club and the Thunder Bay Rowing Club
  • St. Catharines hosted the 1970 FISA World Rowing Championships in the first year of ORA’s existence
  • In 1971, the ORA’s operating budget was $2,800.
  • The first Ontario Rowing Championship to be held outside of St. Catharines took place in Brockville in 1972. Brockville hosted again in 1974.
  • By 1973, the Windsor Rowing Club, University of Western Ontario, Brock University Rowing Club, Ridley Boat Club and Peterborough Rowing Club had joined the ORA as members.
  • Carol Love was the first paid employee of the ORA after being hired as Technical Director in part-time role in the mid-1980’s.
  • Dave Derry was the first full-time staff member of the ORA, hired as Administrative Director (later changed to Executive Director) in 1987.
  • The ORA’s first actual office space also came in 1987, at the Ontario Sport Centre in Toronto.
  • The ORA initially shared an office at the Sport Centre with the Ontario Ball Hockey Association.
  • Ontario has hosted two Canada Summer Games since 1970, Thunder Bay in 1981 and London in 2001. Ontario won the Canada Games flag both years.
  • The Ontario Rowing Association changed its name to Row Ontario in 2001.
  • Canada has won a total of 41 Olympic medals (9 gold, 17 silver, 15 bronze) and 1 Paralympic medal (bronze) in rowing.
  • The first Olympic medal won by Canada in rowing was a silver won by the Argonaut Men’s 8 at the 1904 Olympics in St. Louis.
  • The first Paralympic medal won by Canada in rowing was a bronze won by the PR3Mix4+ at the 2016 Paralympics in Rio.
  • London’s Lesley Thompson-Willie is also tied with German kayaker Josefa Idem for the most Summer Olympic Games appearances by a female athlete with eight. She won five Olympic medals during her storied national team career.

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