Ontario Adventure Rowing Celebrates 25th Anniversary
News/ Nov 30

Ontario Adventure Rowing Celebrates 25th Anniversary

By Shelagh Baker, OAR Publicity Director

As Ontario Adventure Rowing (OAR) congratulates Row Ontario on their 50th Anniversary, we are marking a milestone of our own.

This year marks the 25th anniversary of row touring in Ontario. Given the year that 2020 has been, we feel justified in planning a celebratory anniversary tour in 2021. Stay tuned for details in the new year!

In the 1990’s, Ontario was fortunate to have several rowers from Europe with row touring backgrounds move to Canada. They were a little surprised to see that no-one was really seizing the opportunity to explore Ontario’s numerous, varied and accessible waterways while seated and enjoying the scenery behind us. Our first touring quad arrived from Germany in 1994. After much persistence, enthusiastic team work and planning, the first OAR rowing tour was held on the weekend of June 10-11, 1995 (We had previously thought this took place in 1996 and celebrated a ‘Tenth Anniversary’ Row as such in 2006 but more recent documentation confirms that it was in fact 1995).

The inaugural tour in 1995 launched at Poonamalie Lockstation and travelled approximately 30 kms through The Narrows to Portland where the crews overnighted before heading back the next day.

Ernst Peters, who was one of those who moved to Canada from Germany and had a strong background in rowing touring, remembers the inaugural tour in 1995:

“Touring has been popular in Europe and some parts of South America, since the late 1800’s. It was just a matter of time before it was introduced in Canada. Peter King, President of ORA, now Row Ontario, kept pushing the idea of touring in Ontario ever since the late 1980’s. He would raise the question of when and with which boats at every AGM.

Scotty Withers from Durham had built his own touring four. It was bulky but cut through the waves quite nicely. Scotty also promoted touring at every Tops and Bottoms regatta at the Don Rowing Club.

In 1994, we got an elegant wooden sculling four from Europe, the ‘Georg Hass’, now called the ‘Patrick Vincent’. This was a racing gig for school children, ideal for touring. In the same year, Peter King had his wish granted. A newcomer at his Ottawa Rowing Club, Claudia Moessner was also an enthusiastic proponent of touring.

Claudia turned out to be a blessing for touring in Canada. She joined Norbert Tiemann, Peter Burstyn, Patrick Vincent, Peter Okens and myself. After much discussion and planning it was decided that Claudia would organize the first rowing tour on the Rideau Lakes in 1995.

The decision was made to avoid going through the locks on this first tour and the route from Poonamalie to Portland and back was chosen. On the morning of June 10, we met at Poonamalie. Twelve rowers from Ottawa, Barrie, Argos, Durham and the Dons for two fours with a coxie and two rowers as the land service.

It was a beautiful morning, easy to start and off we pushed ahead. Claudia did the land service to keep good control of the tour. The water was ideal, little did we know about the dangerous water of Big Rideau Lake to come. We rowed and rowed and talked and were singing. Here was Portland, ready for lunch. The boats easy to pull on land then off to the snack bar. A little soup, and a stretch for the legs.

We start on our way back, sticking to Claudia’s well-timed schedule. Of course, we were to stay in touch with the other boat, but our racing gig was just too fast. After an hour of rowing we stopped – I think it was at Murphy’s Landing. A little rest and waiting for the other boat to catch up. There they are, a big hello, and ready to row for the final stretch.

But we looked ahead and saw dark clouds coming up, a good reason to pull hard on the sculls. The water gets choppy, and we are introduced to the changing winds of Big Rideau Lake.

One, two, three and we are safely back in the protected area of Poonamalie. The other boat made it as well. All is well, the sculls are out and the boats de-rigged and we do a big three times ‘hip hip hooray’ for Claudia.”

In 2006, a tenth anniversary tour was held (our strength is the enjoyment of rowing, not in dates or numbers!) The rowing route remained the same, but the tour was done in a Viking (Church) Boat. This was a wooden, fixed seat, sweep boat, originally from Finland. It held about 15 rowers. The Row Ontario Touring Committee temporarily owned this boat, but it was sold as the costs associated with transportation and maintenance became too onerous.

Homam Michael remembers rowing against a very strong head wind for the first day of the ‘tenth anniversary’ row in 2006. This combined with the unfamiliar, fixed seat Church boats made the progress ‘painfully slow’. The launch had been delayed, herding everyone back into the boats after lunch and an unplanned swim off the boat by Scott Withers, meant that daylight was fading by the time the destination was reached. The second day was very calm, making for a more hot, sticky row.

This was the first and only experience for all of the rowers in a Church boat and most vowed that it would be their last! Homam has had the opportunity to enjoy touring internationally in sliding seat Church boats and speaks highly of the experience. They have a more ‘social’ aspect due to the seat configuration encouraging chatting with the rowers beside or diagonally behind/ahead of you and perhaps more importantly, you can take a break at any time and the boat keeps going!

Claudia Moessner wrote “To transport a merely European concept to Canada is a larger task than I originally anticipated.” But thanks to a dedicated team that included her, Ernst Peters, Peter Okens, Patrick Vincent and many more, OAR has grown to now host over 20 days of row touring annually, in single days, weekends and even a week-long row in Florida. Some of our tours include ‘locking through’ lock stations and even portaging! Many of our members have also enjoyed international row touring hosted by other organizations.

Thank you to Ernst Peters, Claudia Moessner, Homam Michael and Richard Vincent for contributing to this article and to all of those who helped to introduce row touring to Canada!

For more information for row touring in Ontario please visit Ontario Adventure Rowing.