Leander Men’s Eight Inducted into Row Ontario Hall of Fame
The first crew to be inducted into the Row Ontario Hall of Fame was named on Thursday as the Leander Boat Club’s men’s heavyweight eights crew of the 1930’s joined the inaugural induction class.
The Leander eight’s first success in the 1930’s came in their hometown of Hamilton, Ont., at the first ever British Empire Games. Eleven nations competed at the inaugural event and the crew won the bronze medal behind England and New Zealand. Two years later, the crew upset the favoured Argonaut Rowing Club at the Olympic Trials on the Royal Canadian Henley Regatta Course to earn their spot at the 1932 Olympic Games. In the process, they set a course record of 5:29 which would stand for many years.
The crew at this time was coached by Bob Hunter and consisted of coxswain Les ‘Shorty’ MacDonald, Earl Eastwood, Joe Harris, Stan Stanyar, Harry Fry, Cedric Liddell, William Thoburn, Donald Boal and Albert Taylor. At the 1932 Olympics in Los Angeles, the crew qualified for the final along with boats from the USA, Italy and Great Britain, which coincidentally was the Leander Club of Henley on Thames in England. The race was close from start to finish with each boat crossing the line within three seconds of each other. The Hamilton Leander crew edged out the British Leander crew by four tenths of a second to capture the bronze medal.
In the ensuing four years, the Leander heavies would maintain their dominance, winning the Royal Canadian Henley Regatta from 1933-35 and again qualify for the Olympic Games in 1936. Four oarsmen from the 1932 Olympic returned, as Liddell, Harris, Fry and MacDonald were joined by new members Gray McLeish, Ben Sharpe, Jack Cunningham, Charles Matteson and Claude Saunders. Competing in Berlin, the crew narrowly missed out on qualifying for the final after being bested by Great Britain in the third repechage race, registering the second fastest repechage round time behind Great Britain to finish in seventh place overall.
Following the 1936 Olympics, the Leander eight found themselves in a rivalry with the West Side Rowing Club of Buffalo, NY, as West Side bested Leander at the Royal Canadian Henley Regatta in 1937 and 1938. The Leander eight would regain the title in 1939 and in the same year qualify for the 1940 Helsinki Olympics. New members of this crew included Reg Wheeler and Bill Bohozuk. The crew was on track for another successful performance at the Olympics, but the Games were unfortunately cancelled due to the Second World War.
Several members of the Leander 1930’s men’s eights crew would go on to other prominent positions in both rowing and other endeavours. Fry eventually became President of the Leander Boat Club. Saunders, who was also inducted into the builders category of the Hall of Fame this year, held many prominent positions throughout the rowing community following his competitive career, while Wheeler would go on to become a prominent and well-loved city politician. McLeish and MacDonald both enlisted in the army and served in World War II. McLeish received a Distinguished Flying Cross for his service in the air force and MacDonald became an expert at bomb disposal during the war. Sharpe, who stood at 6’8”, also enlisted in the air force but was too tall to comfortably sit in the pilot seat so he became a fitness instructor for the squadron. Following the war, he and his brother became professional wrestlers and in 1960 he was inducted into the Pro Wrestling Hall of Fame.
Row Ontario has been announcing the inductions of the inaugural Hall of Fame class since Monday as part of ‘Hall of Fame Week’. Inductees announced this week include Ken Campbell (Umpire), Al Morrow (Coach), and Claude Saunders (Builder). Stay tuned for the announcement of more inductees on Friday.
For more information on the Hall of Fame and Row Ontario’s 50th anniversary, visit www.rowontario.ca/ro50.