Row Ontario Retrospective: The First 25 Years
History/ Oct 8

Row Ontario Retrospective: The First 25 Years

In honour of our 50th anniversary we are putting together a seven-part retrospective series on the history of Row Ontario and the Ontario rowing community. This series is a celebration of all the volunteers, coaches, umpires, athletes, parents, regatta organizers and many more who have worked so hard over the years to build the sport of rowing in our province.

This is Part II of the retrospective series, ‘The First 25 Years.’

Check out the Row Ontario 50th Anniversary page on our website for more information on our 50th anniversary.

The Ontario Rowing Association was formed on May 3, 1970 in Hamilton, Ontario. The decision to form the first provincial rowing association in Ontario history was years in the making. For quite some time, the provincial government had been encouraging the regional rowing associations – the Central Ontario Rowing Association (CORA), the Eastern Rowing Association (ERA), and the North West International Rowing Association (NWIRA) – to come together to form one governing body to administer the sport of rowing throughout all of Ontario.

“The formation of the Ontario Rowing Association happened because the Government of Ontario had started Sport Ontario, and Sport Ontario wanted one governing body for each sport so that everything was more organized and they could deal with one contact,” said Max McDonald, who was President of CORA at the time. “Because of my position with CORA, I was asked if I would attend the meetings to discuss forming one association. The government wanted everything set up properly in order to promote and run the sport of rowing throughout the whole province. One of the ideas was to host an Ontario Rowing Championships. Eventually we were able to get some funding from the government to help run the championships, which we wouldn’t have been able to do otherwise. We were organized already with CORA and the other associations were as well, but not provincially. The government encouraged us to form a provincial organization which we did. And that’s how the Ontario Rowing Association was formed.”

McDonald had been a member of the Leander Boat Club before moving to London, where he became a member of the London Rowing Club. He soon joined the executive committee at the club, which led to his appointment on the CORA Board of Directors. McDonald was also well-connected with the Canadian Association of Amateur Oarsmen (CAAO), having been the team manager of the 1968 Olympic rowing team in Mexico City.

While the regional associations eventually came together, the process of forming the ORA was long and it took some time to get all parties on board with the idea. The clubs from the ERA and NWIRA were in favour of the idea from the start, but some clubs from CORA, unquestionably the biggest and most influential regional association in the province, were initially hesitant. With by far the most members and large, professionally run regattas on the most ideal waterway for rowing in the province, there wasn’t much motivation for CORA to relinquish any of their influence in rowing, particularly in the Niagara region. Eventually the clubs got on board though, due in large part to McDonald acting as a conduit between the clubs, the government, and the regional associations. Upon formation of the ORA, McDonald was installed as the association’s first President.

“I was just so involved with Sport Ontario and attended so many meetings with the different parties that it made sense for me to be asked to become the first President,” said the modest McDonald. “There were a number of people who helped get it started, Joe Lyttle was with CORA as well at the time and was a big help. Staff from the Ontario government and other sport organizations were also really helpful with advice on how to get a provincial association started.”

Since clubs in the ERA and NWIRA were supportive of the idea from the beginning, they also had a big hand in forming the ORA. The Brockville Rowing Club in particular was very supportive and did a lot of work in the background to help the association come to fruition. Head Coach Doug Marshall and members Wes Kuran and Ben Tekamp in particular were very active in helping the idea get off the ground and aiding the ORA in its first several years of operation. With McDonald as President, Tekamp was installed as the association’s Treasurer, joining Peter King (Vice-President) and Phil Chapman (Secretary) to form the ORA’s first Board of Directors. The original draft of the ORA Constitution stated that the aims and objectives of the association were twofold; to develop rowing in Ontario, and to coordinate the programs of regional rowing associations of Ontario in the encouragement of rowing.

In order to achieve those objectives, the ORA needed rowing clubs from across the province to become members of the newly formed association. Nine existing clubs became the founding members of the ORA, comprising the entirety of the initial membership group. The nine founding members were the Argonaut Rowing Club, Brockville Rowing Club, Don Rowing Club, Fort William Rowing Club (soon changed to Thunder Bay Rowing Club), Kenora Rowing Club, Leander Boat Club, London Rowing Club, Ottawa Rowing Club, and St. Catharines Rowing Club. There were approximately 500 active rowers in the founding clubs when the ORA set out to achieve the objectives outlined in their constitution.

At the outset, the ORA was run completely by volunteers, making (by default) McDonald’s house in London, Ont., the site of the first ORA ‘office’. The launching of a new provincial sport organization wasn’t without its challenges, making the ORA’s first year of operation very busy as it began to find its place in the sporting landscape. That first year was also a landmark year for rowing in Ontario for another reason, as from Aug. 1-6, the Royal Canadian Henley Regatta course in St. Catharines welcomed the rowing world for the FISA World Rowing Championships. At that time, the World Championships were held every four years and the 1970 World Championship was the third edition of the event after Lucerne, Switzerland in 1962 and Bled, Yugoslavia in 1966. While the ORA wasn’t directly involved in the planning and execution of the event, seeing the top rowers from across the world flock to St. Catharines was an exciting time for the Ontario rowing community as a whole. The East Germans dominated the competition, medaling in all seven events (3 gold, 4 silver) to finish on top of the medal standings.

While St. Catharines was hosting the World Championships, the ORA was busy with plans for the future of another important event, the Ontario Rowing Championships. Since starting in 1969, the Ontario Rowing Championships had only been hosted in St. Catharines, and the ORA was looking to expand to other cities and move the regatta around the province each year. The Brockville Rowing Club was interested in hosting, and in 1972 the first Ontario Rowing Championships to be hosted outside of St. Catharines took place on the mighty St. Lawrence River in Brockville, Ontario.

“One of our goals when we formed the ORA was to move the Ontario Championships around to different cities, like Brockville,” said McDonald. “Kenora was also really interested in hosting and I went out there for two days to check it out, but it was just going to be too expensive to host and ship all the required boats and equipment out there.”

The Ontario championships returned to St. Catharines the following year and were hosted again in Brockville 1974. The championships continued to have regular stops in St. Catharines but would move around quite a bit in the ensuing years. McDonald would serve two terms as President of the ORA, stepping aside after almost four years as the official President and several more before that as the unofficial President.

“I served for two terms and a total of four years,” said McDonald. “I really enjoyed helping the ORA get started but by the end of those four years it was time for me to step back. I had a full-time job, I was coaching with the London Rowing Club, had been re-elected to the Board of Sport Ontario, was on the Board with CORA. It got to be too much, so it was time to let somebody else step up and be in charge.”

That somebody was Wes Kuran, who was elected the ORA’s second President in late 1973. Kuran got his start in rowing at the St. Catharines Rowing Club while working in the area, and continued rowing at the Ottawa Rowing Club when he returned to his hometown to continue his education. By the time Kuran was named President, he had been a member and coach at the Brockville Rowing Club for several years. The ORA had grown by five more members during McDonald’s Presidency, as the Windsor Crew (1971), University of Western Ontario Rowing Club (1971), Brock University Rowing Club (1972), Ridley Graduate Boat Club (1972) and Peterborough Rowing Club (1973) had all joined. Kuran took over at an interesting time for rowing and the entire Canadian sporting community, as the first Olympic Games to be hosted on Canadian soil was set to take place in less than three years in Montreal.

As federal and provincial governments began to invest more heavily in sport, expectations on both national and provincial sport organizations were heightened. The heightened expectations meant individual sports needed to prove they could produce medals at the Olympics and World Championships to continue to be adequately funded. High performance rowing found itself in a tough position in the early 1970’s, as the Canadian rowing program had fallen behind other countries. Canada failed to medal at the 1968 and 1972 Olympics after claiming medals at the previous three Olympic Games. Another bit of added pressure was that the 1976 Olympics had more medals available for rowing than ever before as women’s rowing was being added to the Olympic programme for the first time. Change was needed across the country to ensure Canada was sending its best athletes to the Olympics. The days of one club sending an entire crew to the Olympic Games were coming to a close, as the CAAO shifted to a model of sending the best athletes from across the country, not the best club crew.

More collaboration between the CAAO, provincial rowing associations, and rowing clubs was required to make this new model a reality. Not wanting their top rowers removed from their boats, or sent elsewhere in the country to train, clubs across Canada were initially resistant to this change. A club could gain a lot of prestige from qualifying a crew for the World Championships or Olympics, and many clubs had established successful high performance programs that they did not want negatively impacted by changes in policy made by provincial and national associations.

The ORA, along with other provincial rowing associations, saw the benefits of moving away from the club crew model and were in favour of adopting it country-wide. Managing how government money was effectively spent became increasingly important for the ORA, as a balance needed to be struck between funding the province’s high performance programs as well as other organizational initiatives. To compound this issue, provincial governments were providing more funding for rowing than the federal government during this time. So, in order to achieve the nation’s high performance goals, provincial rowing associations needed to provide the majority of the funding.

Canada's Barb Boettcher, Guylaine Bernier and Elaine Bourbeau compete in the women's 4+ rowing event at the 1976 Montreal Olympic Games. (CP Photo/COA)
Barb Boettcher, Guylaine Bernier et Elaine Bourbeau du Canada participent au quatre d'aviron fÈminin avec barreur aux Jeux olympiques de MontrÈal de 1976. (Photo PC/AOC)

“Sport Canada didn’t provide a lot of money at that time,” said Kuran. “It was the provinces – BC, Ontario, and Quebec mostly – who provided the majority of the funds to the provincial associations to help the athletes prepare. This funding would send them to training camps, help them with equipment, and travel to events. There was a central training camp established in BC which we provided funding for, not full funding, the athletes still had to provide some of their own money as well. There was also a European tour that the provinces helped out by sponsoring the travel. Most of, if not all, of the sweep rowers were training out in Burnaby which was made up of mainly BC and Ontario athletes.”

Now that the provincial rowing associations were more organized and were providing funding for the national team program, they sought some more influence at the national level. Up until that point in history, rowing clubs and the CAAO had for the most part operated independently. Rowing clubs were members of the CAAO and had voting rights within the organization but ran all of their programs independently in their own communities. The bigger and more established clubs had more influence, which created an issue for smaller clubs who could be negatively impacted by changes at the national level. The creation of the ORA provided an avenue for a governing body to lobby the CAAO on behalf of the entire Ontario rowing community. Providing funding for the national team program gave the ORA, BC Rowing and Aviron Quebec a bit of leverage during this time, and in the lead up to the Montreal Olympics they were granted voting rights with the CAAO, a big development at the time. This also led to more of a say on how the money for the national team was being spent in preparation for the Olympics, which the provinces had also sought.

While the lead up to the Montreal Olympics proved to be a bit contentious at times, it was ultimately worth the struggle as it was the first real evidence of clubs, provincial rowing associations and the CAAO working together towards a common goal. Increased collaboration across the country was a positive sign and the pressure of getting ready to compete at an Olympics on home soil helped broker that collaboration. While the Canadian crews didn’t medal at the Games, they sent 46 athletes, many of whom were from Ontario, and achieved one fourth place finish (Women’s 8), two fifth place finishes (Men’s 4 and Women’s Pair) and one sixth place finish (Women’s Double Sculls), a big improvement over the previous two Olympic Games.

The 1976 Olympics was a huge event for all of Canada and sporting communities across the nation benefitted from the exposure their sports received. The Ontario rowing community was no different. The popularity of rowing in Ontario increased following the Games among both men and women. While the 1976 Olympics were the first to feature women’s rowing, women’s programming was not entirely new. The St. Catharines Rowing Club started what’s believed to be the first women’s program in Ontario in 1947 and had two full crews by 1948, but the program was abandoned after that season due to a lack of competition from other clubs. Brock University started the first university women’s team in 1967 and were joined two years later by the University of Western Ontario. The first women’s national championships didn’t take place in Canada until 1972, and the first world championship to feature women wasn’t until 1974. After the first women’s world championships was held, women’s rowing was formally added to the 1976 Olympic programme.

With a long overdue competition system to encourage women’s rowing in place, Ontario rowing clubs were now running women’s programs which meant increased membership numbers, as potential rowing participants effectively doubled. Membership numbers were growing at existing clubs and new rowing communities began coming into the picture as the ORA was expanding its number of clubs. The Guelph Rowing Club came into existence during this era, the Hanlan Boat Club became a member of the ORA in 1975, the South Niagara Rowing Club and the Woodstock Rowing Club joined in 1976 and the Kingston Rowing Club joined in 1977. At the time the club membership fee to the ORA was $50 per year.

“There wasn’t much required to become a club in those days,” said Kuran. “All you needed was to have a place to row, a list of executive members and a constitution. From an ORA perspective, we were glad to welcome them but since we didn’t have enough money to go around all you could really do was offer them advice and support on how to get started and how to run their club.”

During this time, the ORA and many clubs benefitted from assistance received from the Ministry of Culture and Recreation in the form of the Wintario Lottery Program. Wintario began in 1975 and was the first lottery game offered by the Ontario Lottery Corporation. It was created by the government at the time, and its purpose was to raise money for worthwhile community recreational projects from which the province could benefit.

“Any club or organization at the time could apply through the Wintario Lottery to get additional funding,” said Kuran. “If you had a project like buying a boat or fixing up a club, you would apply through Wintario and they would give you the matching funds. If you put up $1,000 for a project, they would match it. It was not a complicated application either. The Ministry at that time was funding a lot of projects which were the lifeblood of a smaller communities. It was a huge benefit to the rowing community in particular. I know a lot of clubs took advantage of it; we sure did.”

The Wintario Lottery greatly benefitted the ORA. One of the main projects they applied for each year was funding for the Ontario Rowing Championships. They would use the funds to provide travel assistance to clubs so they could attend from as far as Kenora and Thunder Bay. At the 1977 Ontario Rowing Championships in Ottawa, 19 of the 20 member clubs at the time attended and the ORA was able to provide half the accommodation costs at the University of Ottawa residences, and .20 cents/per mile based on four people per vehicle who attended.

Kuran served as President of the ORA until 1977 when he became President of the Canadian Amateur Rowing Association (CARA, re-named from the Canadian Association of Amateur Oarsmen). He was replaced by Roger Sellars from the Windsor Crew Club. Sellars was a former member of the Don Rowing Club and Argonaut Rowing Club who had relocated to the Windsor area and was instrumental in forming the club. The appointment of Sellars was an indication that the ORA was interested in having representatives from less traditional rowing centres on their Board in key roles. Following Sellars term as President he joined CARA as the Executive Director. Bud Malmo from the Kenora Rowing Club was named new President of the ORA after Sellars.

By its ten-year anniversary in 1980, the ORA had 20 active clubs and 1,800 active rowers. Since its inception in 1970, the number of clubs in the province had more than doubled and the number of active rowers had almost quadrupled. The 1,800 active rowers represented approximately 64% of the active rowers in Canada, with the estimated number of Canadian rowers at the time sitting near 2,800. Participation had steadily increased during its first decade in operation, but rowing was still very much a niche sport with lower participation levels than more mainstream sports. The ORA sought to increase the public visibility of rowing in Ontario and had several ideas at the time to make that happen over the course of the next decade.

One of the main ideas at the time was to put together a package of standardized rowing related materials that would continue to promote the sport, and more importantly, stimulate interest towards the implementation of community-based programs. The idea was to create a brochure as well as a video that communities could use to help attract new rowers to the sport. They also wanted to capture the attention of rowers at a young age, and had several ideas for new programs including the establishment of ‘pre-youth’ programs (12 and under), competition opportunities for the bantam age group (10-12), and the creation of a training centre that would help develop elite athletes. All these ideas were geared towards increasing participation at the grassroots level, in hopes that it would not only stimulate a wider interest in the sport but also provide a larger talent pool from which to select elite athletes from.

The ORA was also interested in establishing competitive opportunities for masters rowers (then called ‘veterans’ rowers). In the past, veterans’ races had been loosely organized at Ontario Championship events, but they were not consistently run and were not a requirement. A committee was appointed by the ORA Board to further investigate the viability of implementing a formal veteran’s program. At this point in time, the ORA considered hiring a full-time Executive Director to help execute these ideas, but the Board decided against it, thinking the ORA had not grown to the extent that paid staff was needed. The organization would continue to operate from the ‘kitchen table’ for the time being.

While the ORA had plans for the continued growth of sport in Ontario, the path was by no means a linear progression. By the early 1980’s some of the sheen from the Montreal Olympics had worn off and some of the smaller member clubs were having trouble staying afloat. The Guelph Rowing Club and Windsor Crew were both having issues with declining membership numbers and were in jeopardy of folding. The Tillsonburg Rowing Club was formed in 1981, an outlier in this period, as they were one of the few rowing clubs to become members of the ORA in the early part of the 1980’s. Club expansion had slowed down and the ORA forged ahead, but they were also having some issues at the top of the organization, which may have led to stagnated progress.

As the list of clubs grew and the ORA began to run different programs, the burden and workload on volunteers increased. The ORA relied completely on the non-paid and dedicated volunteer, and all the volunteers who worked with the association had full-time jobs. The demands on their time went hand-in-hand with the growth of the ORA. The more the ORA did, the more time they had to commit. This would lead to a higher turnover rate at the Board level than previously seen, as over-burdened volunteers would inevitably get burned out and either seek lesser roles in the association or not seek re-election. Another issue that concerned the Board was that the ORA was almost completely reliant on government funding. To that point in the association’s history, the Ontario Ministry of Culture and Recreation had been funding amateur sport organizations well, and there was a fear that if the funding were to ever decrease, and no other revenue streams existed, many of the plans they had for new programs would never reach the implementation stage.

Despite the issues at the top, the ORA pressed forward and in 1981 the spotlight was turned on Northwestern Ontario’s sporting community when Thunder Bay hosted the Canada Summer Games. Nearly 13,000 people attended the opening ceremonies and Ontario was dominant in the competitions winning 52 gold medals compared to second-place Quebec who won 19. The event was a big success for a region rich with rowing tradition and it greatly improved sports infrastructure in the area. Unfortunately, in a disappointing development, no rowing events were contested at the 1981 Canada Summer Games, making it the second straight Canada Summer Games to not feature rowing. However, high level rowing competitions were making their way around the province, as the ORA continued its plan to bring the Ontario Rowing Championships to different communities. Welland hosted the championships in 1978-79, 1982 and 1984-1985, Kingston hosted in 1981 and London hosted in 1983. After hosting in 1977, the championships returned to Ottawa in 1986.

At the highest levels of the sport, Canadian rowers returned to the Olympics in 1984 after Canada boycotted the 1980 Moscow Olympics. Canadian rowers had their best showing at the Olympics to date, albeit aided by a reciprocal Soviet boycott of the Games, winning six medals (1 gold, 2 silver, 3 bronze). Ontario rowers were a part of five of the six medal-winning boats.

In contrast to the first half of the 1980’s where few new rowing clubs were formed, the latter half of the decade saw many more rowing clubs come into existence, many of them in new rowing communities. The Georgian Bay Rowing Society (1985), Ottawa Valley Rowing Club (1985), Quinte Rowing Club (1986), Barrie Rowing Club (1987), Cambridge Rowing Club (1987), Kitchener-Waterloo Rowing Club (1988), and Muskoka Rowing Club (1989) were all formed, adding clubs to the Eastern, Central and Southwestern regions of the province. The Fort Frances Rowing Club, located in Northwestern Ontario, was also periodically a member of the ORA during this time, adding another Ontario club for Kenora and Thunder Bay to compete against. Eastern Ontario became one of ORA’s fastest growing regions, as clubs also began to emerge, or in some cases re-emerge, in communities such as Renfrew, Carleton Place, Nepean, and Belleville.

As more clubs were added and rowing programs were expanding, the ORA made the decision to hire their first paid staff. Carol Love, a trailblazing member of the 1976 Olympic team, was hired in a part-time role as the ORA’s Technical Coordinator in 1986. By this time, the ORA had made good on some of their future plans and had added a few others along the way. The association had started running coaching clinics, talent identification camps and other development camps around the province. Love, who had transitioned to coaching following a decorated competitive career, was hired to organize and facilitate these camps and clinics and assist regional coordinators and clubs with technical information.

One year later, in 1987, the ORA made the decision to hire its first full-time staff member when Dave Derry of St. Catharines was brought on to be the association’s Executive Director.

“Mike Murphy was President of ORA at the time and made the case to the Board that there should be a full-time staff person in place,” said Derry. “The Ministry of Culture and Recreation had been encouraging the ORA to hire someone full-time for years, and the Board put in a grant application which was accepted. It was contingent though on moving the office to Toronto in the Ontario Sport Centre with the other provincial organizations. I was called the Administrative Director of the ORA for the first year, which later changed to Executive Director.”

After 17 years in operation the ORA had made the leap from kitchen table management to having a professional office in the big city. They were now surrounded by other provincial sport organizations at the Ontario Sport Centre, a great environment to work in with the opportunity to share ideas with other like-minded individuals working in a diverse group of winter and summer sports. The Sports Centre also supplied organizations with their first level of administrative support, and some sports shared offices and secretaries.

“When we first moved in, we were told this is where your office is going to be and you’re going to be sharing it with the Ontario Ball Hockey Association,” said Derry. “I said the what? I had no idea ball hockey had a provincial sport organization. But it worked out really well, we shared a secretary and the office was split right in two. They were great to work with.”

The first Ontario Rowing Championships with Derry on board as Executive Director took place in Welland on July 25-26, 1987 and was described as the most successful to date in terms of the number of competitors. The following year the event moved down the canal to St. Catharines and drew 21 clubs and 670 competitors, all of whom were given ‘painter type’ hats from the organizing committee for participating. Another big provincial event hosted in 1988 was the Ontario Summer Games which took place in Hamilton on Aug. 20-21. The rowing events, which were organized by the legendary Claude Saunders, were held at the Leander Boat Club and were attended by rowers from four Ontario regions. Luck was on the regatta organizers side throughout the two days. The water was dead calm in Hamilton Bay for the first day of competition, which was humorously described as a ‘once in a lifetime phenomenon.’ The second day was a little breezier, but the competitions went off at 7am without a hitch and were completed by 8:45am. By 9:15am the water was too rough to row on.

The Ontario Summer Games were an important event for the province as they served as an important preparatory event for the 1989 Canada Summer Games. Ontario rowers had a poor showing at the 1985 Games and were being counted on for an improved performance this time around.

“At the 1985 Canada Games, Ontario rowers did not do well, in fact, you could say we got our asses kicked,” said Derry. “But we did well in ‘89, and that allowed me to ask for a little more funding from the Ontario government in preparation for the next Games in ‘93. We made the case that this is the next generation of rowing talent coming up and our development program was rewarded. Rowing also did so well in the 1992 Olympics, it was the best ever showing by Canadian rowers at an Olympics, which allowed for more leverage for increased funding from the Ministry.”

The Canada Games had grown since its inception in 1967 and had become a major event on the Canadian sports calendar. For some athletes, the Canada Games were the high point in their athletic career, while others would continue on to compete at the highest levels of sport. Competition was fierce between provinces as they competed for the Games flag. Scoring points are awarded in every event based on placing. The scoring points are then aggregated to create Flag points for a provincial or territorial ranking. Earning flag points at the Canada Games was important for each provincial sport organization as it could affect provincial funding in the years ahead.

“Winning the Canada Games flag gives bragging rights to the ‘winning’ provincial government,” said Derry. “Crews normally focus on winning their race, not on winning the Flag. At one Canada Games, however, in 1993, the Team Ontario chef de mission came to the rowing team on the final day of competition and told them that if they finished second in the men’s eight, which was the final competition of the Games, Ontario will not win the flag. We weren’t too happy with putting that amount of pressure on our athletes right before their race, especially since the chef initially emphasized participating in the Games was the main thing. The crew won the race; Ontario won the flag and three years later we reminded the government of that when applying, successfully, for funding for the next Games.”

Another big development in Ontario high performance rowing, and the entire Canadian rowing community, around this time was the creation of Ontario National Rowing Team Training Centre. Housed in London on Fanshawe Lake, the training centre, one of two in the country with the other located in Victoria, B.C., was created in 1986 and became the home of the women’s national team. Legendary coach Al Morrow was installed as the head coach of the centre in 1988 and was named women’s national team coach in 1990. The training centre was the first of its kind in Ontario and offered an ideal daily training environment for athletes. The top rowers from across Canada flocked to London to train and the addition of the centre was a key factor in the lead up to the 1992 Olympics in Barcelona, which saw Canada claim a record four gold medals and one bronze medal.

Included in this group of Olympians were generational talents such as Silken Laumann, Marnie McBean, and Lesley Thompson-Willie who had developed through the Ontario club system. On the men’s side, the gold medal-winning men’s eight was almost half-full of Ontario athletes with Andy Crosby, Rob Marland, John Wallace and coxswain Terrence Paul. The Western Mustangs were perennially one of the top university programs in the country and with the addition of the training centre, London had become one of the two biggest hotbeds of rowing talent in the country.

While the high performance system in Ontario was reaching new heights in the early 1990’s, the number of Ontario rowing clubs also continued to grow to unprecedented levels. The Bytown Boat Club (1990), Durham Rowing Club (1990), and Sudbury Rowing Club (1991) were all formed and Queen’s University and the University of Toronto, programs which had been around for decades, became members of the ORA for the first time. By 1993 there was a record 32 member clubs of the ORA with more to be added as the decade progressed.

The number of regattas hosted in Ontario had also been steadily rising since the inception of the ORA in 1970, and in 1994 alone, 38 regattas were hosted in the province. This included the first ever Commonwealth Rowing Association Championships which was hosted in London, and the Canadian Masters Championships which took place in Welland. The ORA also got a new home in 1994, as the Ontario Sports Centre moved to a new building on Eglinton Ave. in North York at the end of the year.

Indoor rowing events had also grown in popularity over the years and were a significant part of the rowing calendar by the mid-1990’s. In 1995 alone, the Argonaut Rowing Club hosted the Canadian Indoor Rowing Championships, the Ontario Ergometer Championships were held in their long-time home of Ridley College, and a District Ergometer Competition was run in London.

Rowing in Ontario was well positioned for success for the rest of the 1990’s but some outside factors began to make life difficult for the ORA. Starting in 1994, provincial funding for sports organizations was cut by the NDP government, which had been in power since 1990. Funding for rowing dropped 31 percent from 1993 to 1994, and an additional nine percent from 1994 to 1995. A lack of funding from the government meant the ORA, now under the stewardship of President Peter King, would need to be creative with how it spent its limited funds and also look to generate other revenue sources to continue to run the programs that had been developed.

In 1995, rowing in Ontario was in a much different place than it was in 1970. The first 25 years of the Ontario Rowing Association was a period of growth, change, excitement, setbacks, high points, low points, frustration and collaboration. The next 25 years would be more of the same as new challenges, opportunities and shifting landscapes would lead a winding path to the present day state of Row Ontario in 2020.

Thank you to Max McDonald, Wes Kuran and Dave Derry for their generous contributions to this story. Also, thank you to Brian Love from the Peterborough Rowing Club for sending a treasure trove of information they had stored in archival files. They were instrumental in compiling this story, in particular an analysis by Paul Beedling from 1980 on the ORA’s structure and function. Paddling Against the Current: A History of Women’s Competitive International Rowing Between 1954 and 2003 by Dr. Amanda Schweinbenz was also used as a reference for this story.  

Photo Credits:

1976 Men’s Olympic Team –

1976 Women’s Olympic Team –

1985 Canada Summer Games – Carol Purcer

Claude Saunders – George Gage

Marnie McBean and Heather Cartwright OWIAA Champs – Western Rowing