Rowing Pioneer Ned Hanlan was born on July 12, 1855 and grew up on Toronto Island where he became fascinated with rowing as a youth after seeing an oarsman rowing in Toronto Bay. Legend has it that Hanlan used to cross Lake Ontario in a home-made boat every day to go to school on the mainland. As he entered his late teenage years, Hanlan was gaining a reputation as one of the top scullers in Toronto and broke through in 1873 at the age of 18 by winning the amateur sculling championship on Toronto Bay, defeating many of the prominent scullers of the time.

Widely regarded as Canada’s first individual sporting hero, Hanlan would go on to achieve an unprecedented amount of success in rowing in the late-1800’s. In 1876, he defeated elite scullers from across Canada and the USA at Philadelphia Centennial Regatta and returned home to Toronto with a crowd of thousands of fans and a procession on Yonge St. Two years later, he became the United States Rowing Champion by winning a regatta on Pittsburgh’s Allegheny River and the year after that became England’s Rowing Champion, winning the race by 11 boat lengths. In 1880, Hanlan became Canada’s first individual World Champion in any sport when he won the Rowing World Championships, which were also held in England. He would hold the Word Championship title until 1884 when he was finally defeated by William Beach in Sydney, Australia in a race watched by thousands of Sydney residents. Hanlan would go on to win over 300 matched races in his career, losing only six, and became a household name in major international cities such as Paris, London, Rome, New York and Boston.

Hanlan was considered the father of the modern rowing technique and was the first to master the sliding seat. Following his retirement from rowing, he became a City Alderman in Toronto and was head coach of the University of Toronto rowing team from 1897-1900. He also coached single scullers and sweep oar crews from Columbia University, Ottawa Rowing Club, Toronto Rowing Club and Argonaut Rowing Club from the time of his retirement to his death in 1908 at the age of 52. Over 10,000 people paid their respects at his funeral procession with tributes coming in from all over the world.

Career Highlights:

  • Widely regarded as Canada’s first individual sporting hero
  • Won the amateur sculling championship on Toronto Bay at the age of 18
  • Won at the Philadelphia Centennial Regatta in 1876 and two years later became the United States Rowing Champion in 1878
  • Captured the England Rowing Championship in 1879
  • Became Canada’s first ever World Champion in any sport in 1880. Held the World Championship title until 1884
  • Won over 300 matched races in his career, losing only six
  • Considered the father of the modern rowing technique and was the first to master the sliding seat