Remembering the Queen’s Dash
In 1977, Queen Elizabeth II visited Canada during her Silver Jubilee year. During a tightly scheduled six-day visit, she gave a speech at a State Dinner, attended an Ottawa Rough Riders vs. Hamilton Tiger-Cats CFL game and, of course, met with Canada’s leaders and politicians during her time in Canada.
Another sporting event she took part in while in Ottawa was the Head of the Rideau Regatta. Then Ottawa Rowing Club President Peter King organized the event to coincide with the Queen’s visit, and Queen Elizabeth II attended the event and presented prizes to the rowers. Some 40 clubs entered, and blue-ribbon guests attended including former Prime Minister John Diefenbaker, Minister of Sport Iona Campagnolo, Chief of the Defense Staff Admiral Falls, Ontario Minister of Sport Robert Welch, MP Hugh Poulin, and Director of Sport Canada Roger Jackson, as well as several thousand spectators. Jackson, who rowed for Western in 1959, was a Tokyo 1964 Olympic medalist in the men’s coxless pair with George Hungerford, the only gold medal for Canada at those Games.
A special sprint race was created to honour the Queen’s visit, appropriately named ‘The Queen’s Dash’.
“The Queen’s Dash took place on Sunday, October 16, 1977,” said Richard MacFarlane, an Ontario rowing historian and from 1987 a member of Hanlan Boat Club, who participated in the regatta. “I was racing in a junior varsity men’s eight crew with the University of Western Ontario and they called our race the ‘Queen’s Dash’. It was an all-out 500 metre race at top speed with a rate of up to 50 strokes a minute. The entire race took about 1 minute 20 seconds.”
Of special note, MacFarlane recalled fondly, is that David Patchell-Evans, who founded Goodlife Fitness and who, years later, married Canadian rowing legend Silken Laumann, was also in the Western junior varsity eight.
All crews who participated in the race had already completed the typical race at the Head of the Rideau, which was a 5km race which took approximately 20 minutes to finish. In that race, the rowers started at the Chateau Laurier Hotel site and they rowed down the Rideau Canal, under the bridges and past Lansdowne Stadium to the finish line. The Queen’s Dash was a sprint across Dow’s Lake to the finish line.
Competing in the race was MacFarlane’s crew from Western, Concordia University, the Syracuse Chargers, Guelph University, Brock University, and Upper Canada College. The crew from Guelph, which had oarsmen from St. Catharines Rowing Club, some of whom were at national level, were favourites heading into the race. But in an upset, the Upper Canada College crew edged them by a bow ball, a few inches at the line, to win the first, and only, Queen’s Dash in front of the Queen herself. Western came in third by a deck.
“Sam Craig, who later became President of Hanlan Boat Club and Rowing Canada Aviron, was so proud when the Queen presented the medals to his Upper Canada College crew members,” said MacFarlane. “It was quite a day, the only time I saw the Queen live, even if it was from a distance. I’ve rowed for close to 50 years and it was my most memorable rowing event. In my view, that race was unique and it is a story worth sharing.”
Thank you to Richard MacFarlane for providing his personal account of this story and for co-authoring the article. Picture used is property of Richard MacFarlane. Other information in this story was provided by the Ottawa Rowing Club and CBC.