Legendary Rower Wright Sr. Inducted into Row Ontario Hall of Fame
Announcement/ Nov 24

Legendary Rower Wright Sr. Inducted into Row Ontario Hall of Fame

Rowing legend Joseph Wright Sr. was honoured on Thursday, becoming the latest inductee of the 2022 Row Ontario Hall of Fame class. Wright, whose rowing career spanned over 30 years from the early 1880’s to the early 1910’s was inducted into the Heritage category in the Row Ontario Hall of Fame, which recognizes inductees whose accomplishments in rowing came before 1970.

Born in 1864 in Villanova, Ont., Wright got his start in rowing as a teenager at Toronto’s Argonaut Rowing Club in the early 1880’s. He took quickly to the sport and was soon competing against the best rowers in Canada and abroad. He would go on to compete in everything from single sculls to eights and over the course of his lengthy career collected more than 130 victories. His first major win came in 1885 when he captured the US National fours title in Albany, NY with his crewmates from Argos. This was just the beginning as Wright would go on to compete in regattas all over Canada, the US and England capturing many titles along the way. In 1895, he again won the US National title, this time capturing both the pairs and the fours championships.

Many high-level rowers move into coaching at some during their careers, and while Wright was no exception, his move into coaching came during the middle of his competitive career as opposed to the end of it. He began coaching at Argo’s in 1889 and became a ‘player-coach’ for the next several years, sometimes rowing in the boat that he was also coaching. At the turn of the century, as Wright was in his late 30’s he was still rowing at a high level when most careers are winding down. He experienced the greatest successes of his rowing career in his 40’s, competing at the 1904 Olympics in St. Louis and winning a silver medal in the eight. He returned to the Olympics four years later in London and helped his eight’s crew to another medal, this time a bronze. He also took his rowers to England five times to compete in the prestigious Henley Royal Regatta, and in 1906, at the age of 42, he stroked his crew to victory in two heats of the British Henley’s Grand Challenge. Wright was also the first Canadian to win a heat of the British Henley’s prestigious Diamond Sculls race, and though he never claimed the title himself, two of his protégées, Jack Guest, Sr. and his own son, Joe Wright, Jr., went on to win this coveted event.

Wright would return to the Olympics one more time in 1912 in Stockholm, this time only as a coach. The senior eights crew that coached won both the Canadian Henley and the US nationals in 1905, 1907, and 1911, while his intermediate eights did the same in 1905, 1906, 1909, 1910, and 1911. His success as a coach at Argos’s led to more opportunities after his competitive career finally came to end. He was named the head coach of the University of Pennsylvania in 1915 and coached there until 1925. He improved the program greatly during his stint as coach but his greatest achievement may have been the introduction of lightweight rowing. Wright advocated for a lightweight program to give opportunities to lighter weight rowers at the school, and by 1919 lightweight rowing was recognized as an event around the US and by most universities.

Although he is best known for his skills on the water, Wright was a multisport athlete who seemed to excel in everything he played. In track and field, Wright set national shot put and hammer throw records, and he was one of the first Canadians to run the 100-yard dash in ten-seconds flat. He was also a Canadian billiards champion and a national amateur wrestling champion and claimed the Canadian amateur heavyweight boxing title at the age of 35. At the age of 44 he was also still a regular with the Toronto Argonauts football team and played alongside his son George.

Wright returned to Toronto after his coaching stint at the University of Pennsylvania came to an end and was elected to Toronto city council in 1928 where he served three terms. He remained involved in rowing at Argo’s until his passing on Oct. 18, 1950 at the age of 86. Two months after his death, Wright was selected by the Canadian Press as the greatest oarsmen of the half-century.

Row Ontario is announcing the inductions of the 2022 Hall of Fame Class this week as part of ‘Hall of Fame Week’. Earlier this week, Judy Sutcliffe (Umpire), Paddy Cline (Coach) and Max McDonald (Builder) were announced as members of the Hall of Fame class. Stay tuned the rest of this week for more announcements on the 2022 induction class of the Row Ontario Hall of Fame.