Row Ontario Retrospective: The Second 25 Years
History/ Dec 9

Row Ontario Retrospective: The Second 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 VI of the retrospective series, ‘The Second 25 Years’.

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

Throughout the first 25 years of the Ontario Rowing Association (ORA), the sport of rowing in Ontario went through many changes. It 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 were encountered by the ORA. Some of the challenges met by the ORA were intentional, as the association continued to expand and grow its programming, while others were brought on by outside forces and needed to be overcome in order for the association to continue to operate successfully.

One of the latter such challenges started in 1993 as the Ontario NDP Government, which had been in power since 1990, began to cut provincial funding for provincial sport organizations. Between 1993-95, provincial funding was reduced by 40%, leaving the ORA in a difficult position as it completed its silver anniversary year.

“Rowing doesn’t have the luxury of having a professional component to it,” said Dave Derry, who was hired as the ORA’s first Executive Director in 1987. “It is not what I would call, an ‘institutionalized’ sport. And by that, I mean like basketball, swimming and hockey, taxpayers’ money is put into school gymnasiums, arenas and swimming pools. It’s hard to get television coverage and sponsorship. Funding was always a concern and some years were tougher than others to receive funding from the government. One year in particular, the government changed hands three times, it went from Conservative to Liberal to NDP. So, the policies kept changing and we had to keep figuring out what they wanted from us to make sure our funding applications would be successful. Some sports funding, including rowing, were cut by a large percentage while others were completely defunded. That was a real challenging time.”

In addition to the decreased funding, the Ministry was also seeking to claw back some of the grant money which had already been received and forwarded to local organizing committees for hosting events, and a portion of which had already been expended. This situation was deeply concerning at the Board level and could have had major financial ramifications for the sport. Peter King, who was President at the time, was tasked with contacting the Ministry to try to resolve the situation. In the meantime, the ORA needed to dip into its reserve funding and tighten its budget in order to have enough cash flow to remain viable and deal with the financial constraints while still trying to move the sport forward in a positive direction. Despite the financial pressures, the ORA continued to be a strong voice on policy matters and a leader within the Ontario sports community.

“We were known within the building at the Ontario Sports Centre as a pretty progressive sport,” said Derry. “We voiced our opinions on policy matters with the Ministry of Culture, Tourism and Recreation and we really promoted the idea of funding sports. We saw ourselves as a leader within the Ontario sports community and we were proud to have that role.”

Canada's men's quadruple rowing team; (Left to Right) Brian Peaker, Gavin Hassett, Dave Boyes and Jeff Lay are seen at the 1996 Atlanta Olympic Games. (CP Photo/ COA/ Claus Andersen) 

Brian Peaker, Gavin Hassett, Dave Boyes et Jeff Lay (de gauche ‡ droite) du Canada participent ‡ l'Èpreuve du quatre d'aviron aux Jeux olympiques d'Atlanta de 1996. (Photo PC/AOC)

While there were funding issues behind the scenes during the mid-1990’s, on the regatta course Ontario athletes had never been shining brighter. The 1996 Olympics in Atlanta saw Ontario rowers contribute to five of Canada’s six medals. The six medals left the Canadian rowing team in a tie with Australia for the most in rowing at the 1996 Games, the first time Canada had ever been atop the medal standings in rowing at an Olympics. At the 1997 Canada Summer Games in Brandon, MB, Team Ontario came out on top of the overall medal standings with 154 medals, besting Quebec which came in second with 126. The Ontario rowing team delivered a typically strong performance in helping Ontario win the Canada Games Flag.

The Ontario Rowing Association also continued to grow in numbers as new clubs such as the Guelph Rowing Club (1999) were added to the association throughout the back half of the 1990’s. Still, it wasn’t always smooth sailing among the membership as every so often factions within a club would break off to form their own club in the same area, leading to regional rivalries.

“It was interesting when some clubs would splinter and an application would come in from former members looking to start up a new rowing club,” said Derry. “A few times, the other club stood up and opposed their membership, so things got a little heated. That kept people honest, the threat that they could be challenged. There were probably three times during my time as Executive Director where a club was really challenged. Clubs that were inwardly focused generally had trouble while clubs that were outwardly focused and interested in helping out the community were generally successful. Whenever a new club was formed, I always encouraged them to name their club after their community to help establish themselves and represent the community.”

When issues arose during meetings and tempers began to flare, there was often mediation needed from other members of the rowing community to keep things under control. Derry remembers one such incident where Rob Millikin, a long-time ORA Board Member, stepped in to calm the waters and settle down the membership.

“The late Rob Millikin whose home club was the Durham Rowing Club made a real poignant comment one year when things were getting a little too testy,” said Derry. “He said something to the effect of ‘Let’s everyone take a deep breath and calm down. In this sport we compete on the water, off the water we cooperate and help each other.’ Everybody just stopped and settled down at that point and we moved on. It was great that somebody like Rob, who was really respected, stepped up and took that leadership position and put it into those words. That really had an effect on everyone.”

Strong leaders were never in short supply in the Ontario rowing community, and many of the board members in the late-90’s were some of the sport’s greatest contributors. In addition, to King, who served as President from 1993-96, and Wayne De Haitre of the Quinte Rowing Club, who was the ORA President from 1996-2000, board members during this era included key contributors such as Claude Saunders, Doug Marshall, Ken Campbell, Derek Ventnor and Peter Cookson. Derry was another one of those strong leaders. Under his guidance the ORA went through a tremendous period of growth as the number of Ontario rowing clubs reached a new high of 44 in 2000. His tenure as Executive Director came to a close in 2000 after 14 years.

Susan Kitchen, who would go on to become a long-time Executive Director with the Coaches Association of Ontario in addition to holding several different volunteer roles within the Ontario rowing community, replaced Derry and became the interim Executive Director while a search was conducted for a permanent replacement. After the search and interview process was completed, the ORA decided to take a chance on Patrick Okens, a recent grad student who had just completed his masters on the history of the sport at the University of Toronto. The Okens family had been rowing for three generations and Patrick was an accomplished rower himself, having rowed with the Varsity Blues rowing team, the Don Rowing Club, Argonaut Rowing Club and Hanlan Boat Club over the preceding decade.

“I just saw the job posting and decided to apply,” said Okens. “I had been a spare on the Ontario team at the Rowing Canada Cup that summer and had gotten to know Mike Thompson as I tried to make myself useful at that regatta. To my surprise he was there for the interview at the Argonaut Rowing Club along with other current board members Satinder Singh, Bruce Gibson and Giselle Chiasson. I don’t know that there were too many organizations then or now who would take that chance on someone straight out of graduate school. But I was grateful for the opportunity and jumped straight into the deep end.”

One of the first big organizational changes after Okens came on board didn’t impact any of the programming or operations but would change the public face of the ORA for the years to come. In 2001, after 31 years under the Ontario Rowing Association moniker, the name of the association was changed to Row Ontario. “We wanted something that was more succinct and a little punchier than the Ontario Rowing Association,” said Okens. “Satinder Singh, who was the VP of Marketing on the Board, and I collaborated and ultimately came up with Row Ontario as a trade name and the Board approved it. For the new logo, we looked at different boats and decided that the quad was the most symmetrical and straight forward format to show rowers working together.”

With a new name and new look, Row Ontario forged ahead. The same year as the name change was also an exciting year on the regatta course, as London hosted the 2001 Canada Summer Games. For the first time in the history of the event, Ontario rowers got to compete on their provincial waters. The only other Canada Summer Games to be hosted in Ontario was in Thunder Bay in 1981, but rowing was unfortunately not on the competition programme for that edition of the event. London was the largest city to ever host the Games and the rowing competitions were held on Fanshawe Lake. Coaches for the team included legendary Ridley Graduate Boat Club coaches Jack Nicholson and Nancy Storrs, future Row Ontario President Mike Thompson of the St. Catharines Rowing Club, and Rudy Wheeler. Team Ontario again captured the Canada Games Flag.

While the top under-21 rowers in Ontario were competing at elite levels at the Canada Summer Games, Row Ontario was also expanding their programming into the non-competitive side of the sport. One of the areas that was invested in was row touring. Row touring was introduced in Canada in 1996 by a group of experienced row tourers from Europe, who had immigrated to Canada, namely Ernst Peters and Claudian Moessner of the Don Rowing Club. Row touring is the adventure side of the sport and introduces its rowers to unfamiliar waterways and scenery.

As part of their expansion into this area of the sport, Row Ontario successfully bid for a FISA row touring event which was hosted on the Rideau Canal in 2002. They also applied for and received a Trillium Grant which allowed them to purchase boats for the tour, which was needed to help increase the size of the fleet as there were approximately 80 people from around the world participating in the tour. The event was not only helpful in increasing row touring’s profile in Ontario, but the touring boats were able to stay in circulation in the province for years and helped clubs expand their touring, recreational and entry level programming.

Around the same time, Row Ontario also began to focus more on the development of the sport inside the member clubs. The Row Ontario Annual General Meeting (AGM) was complemented with a weekend training conference. The first day became a full conference of workshops with a coaching stream, an umpire stream and an administrative stream. Together, these provided something of value for all stakeholders and to further train and develop Ontario coaches, umpires and club administrators. The thought behind it being if club operations could become a little more professional and stronger, the Ontario rowing community would grow stronger as a whole.

Although the pace of adding new clubs to the association had slowed by the early-2000’s, in comparison to the 1980’s and 1990’s, clubs were still becoming new members. In the first half of the decade, clubs such as Island Lake Rowing Club (Mono), Collingwood Rowing Club, Deep River Rowing Club, Haldimand Grand River Rowing Club (Cayuga) all became members. Some of the clubs who joined during this time were already established clubs with a solid membership base who were becoming member clubs of Row Ontario for the first time. This in part helped fuel the growth of individual members in the province, as during the first-half of the 2000’s the number of individual participants doubled throughout the province. With an emphasis placed on grassroots development and recreational rowing in particular, clubs who did not operate competitive programs were increasingly seeing the value of becoming a Row Ontario member club and were joining the fold.

The value being provided to a member club by the ORA or Row Ontario has always been, and will always be, important. However, it was of particular importance during this era as Row Ontario’s revenue model was changing due to the decreases in government funding. To make up for the shortfall, membership fees needed to be increased for the association to remain viable.

“Due to the reduction in government funding, we decided to increase our own revenues,” said Okens. “In the span of six years we went from one third of self-generated funding to two thirds, and the most straightforward way we could do that was by increasing membership fees. To get buy-in from the clubs for this increase, we had to ensure they were getting valuable, meaningful service from us.”

The mid-2000’s also saw some memorable regattas in Ontario, including the 2004 Ontario Rowing Championships which took place in the Shipping Channel in Toronto, an untested venue which was a change from the event’s typical home in the Niagara Region. The 2006 Ontario Summer Games were hosted in Ottawa in August, and originally the rowing events were scheduled in direct conflict with the Royal Canadian Henley Regatta. Seeking an alternative that would allow the rowing events at the Ontario Summer Games to still to take place and feature to the top athletes, Row Ontario managed to persuade the organizing committee to host the rowing component after the closing ceremonies. Members of the Ontario rowing community also pitched in to make it a memorable experience for all involved.

“For those Ontario Summer Games, the Ottawa Rowing Club provided most of the equipment and most of the umpiring,” said Okens. “We selected participants based on performance at Henley, the week before the Games. The dorms were opened up for everyone to stay in and we tried to make the crews pretty even, so we had good competition. We also ran an umpiring session where RCA umpires came in and talked to the athletes about the rules of racing, and Olympic Gold medalist Rob Marland gave an inspirational chat. So, we brought in these fun things to make it more than just a regular regatta and I’m really proud of that. We took an odd situation and made the best of it.”

Okens tenure as Executive Director ended in 2006. During his time with Row Ontario, he served under five Presidents including Wayne De Haitre (2000), Bruce Gibson (2000-02), Giselle Chiasson (2002-03), George Barkwell (2003-05) and Mike Thompson (2005-06). Chiasson, who called the Thunder Bay Rowing Club home, became Row Ontario’s first female President when she was elected in 2002. Lynda Dundas of the Don Rowing Club became the second female President in 2006 and provided Row Ontario with increased continuity as the association’s President, serving until 2011.

The Row Ontario Board of Directors turned to a familiar face to fill the Executive Director’s role this time around, as Derek Ventnor was hired for the position. Ventnor had been the ORA’s treasurer for ten years from 1992-2002 and was a member of the Row Ontario Umpires Committee from 2002-06.

The late 2000’s produced some solid results for Ontario athletes at the high performance level. The 2008 Olympics in Beijing were one of Canada’s most successful in rowing to date as they claimed four total medals, after winning one in each of the 2000 and 2004 Olympic Games. Ontario rowers Jonathan Beare, Liam Parsons, Melanie Kok, Adam Kreek, Andrew Byrnes and legendary coxie Brian Price all brought home medals from Beijing. On the domestic side, Team Ontario once again performed well at the 2009 Canada Summer Games regatta in Prince Edward Island. The Ontario squad narrowly topped provincial rivals British Columbia with 13 total medals (8 gold, 3 silver, 2 bronze) in rowing compared to BC’s 12. They claimed gold in eight of 14 events and missed the podium in only one event.

Around the same time Ontario’s best young rowers were competing at the Canada Summer Games, Row Ontario was making plans to expand their high performance program in a big way. In 2010, Row Ontario launched the Row to Podium (RTP) program to become the flagship program for high performance sport in Ontario. The RTP program was the first of its kind in the country and featured a provincial training centre in Welland and four regional training centres, all of which were associated with university programs, in Peterborough (Trent University), London (Western University), St. Catharines (Brock University) and Kingston (Queen’s University). The creation of the RTP was a game changer for Row Ontario and high performance rowing in the province, but it wasn’t without its challenges.

“The creation of the Row to Podium program meant a lot of changes throughout the province,” said Ventnor. “2010 was the most challenging year I’ve had in my work life. The RTP program was a huge cultural change in rowing and the idea of having regional talent development centres was new. The fact that athletes could go and train with professional coaches in the sport was great, but it was a huge cultural change since up to that point everything, including coaching, was volunteer driven. That was difficult to navigate in the beginning so that first year was really, really tough. It got better each passing year but getting the idea off the ground, opening, and hiring coaches, was a huge undertaking.”

Through the process of launching the idea and opening, the RTP program became affiliated with national programming through Rowing Canada Aviron, and the provincial training centre became known as the National Development Centre – Ontario (NDCO). A year and a half into the project, the number of regional training centres was reduced by one as the Kingston centre was closed. With three regional training centres and the NDCO operating successfully, the high performance program in Ontario was at a good place in the early 2010’s and was well-funded by grant money to support the project.

“The influx of grant money for high performance led to a whole new level of accountability, which we certainly met, but it definitely changed the way we operated,” said Ventnor. “I had to play the role of High Performance Director as well as ED and I never appreciated how much was involved in managing high performance, even at the provincial level, until I jumped into that quicksand. Ultimately, it was very rewarding to get it off the ground and see it succeed but it was very challenging in the beginning.”

The introduction of the RTP program also required Row Ontario to expand their staff as coaches needed to be hired to run each centre. Since hiring its first part-time staff member in 1986, and first full-time staff member in 1987, Row Ontario had maintained a small staff, typically two full-time employees, until the growth of the association necessitated more staff. The office staff grew to upwards of five staff as well, as more specialized roles were being created to fulfill organizational needs.

One of the staff additions came as a result of the Shells and Sails Program, a creative partnership with Ontario Sailing where a full-time staff member, as well as part-time staff member would split time between the two organizations. The partnership was possible with a four-year Trillium Grant to support the new program, which was designed to support current member clubs and the growth of new rowing clubs in the province. The new program also featured a mobile rowing and sailing centre which travelled on the road for four consecutive summers. Shells and Sails highlighted some of the areas where clubs could benefit from support and guidance from Row Ontario and showed a partnership with a fellow provincial sport organization could be successful and benefit both organizations. This partnership continues with the COAST program today, which aims to support member clubs in a wide variety of ways through governance and operations.

The Shells and Sails Program helped establish some new clubs, as the Wolf Island Boat Club in Kingston, the Upper Ottawa Valley Boat Club (formerly the Petawawa and Area Boat Club) were created through the program. Other clubs becoming members of Row Ontario in the late 2000’s and early 2010’s included Hatchets Rowing Centre (Muskoka), Niagara Rowing School, Niagara Falls Rowing Club, Bluewater Rowing Club (Sarnia), the St. Lawrence Rowing Club (Iroquois), and the North Bay Rowing Club.

Starting in the early-2010’s, Row Ontario also committed to securing its financial future by building solid reserve funding to be used in case of an emergency, with the goal of creating a reserve the equivalent of one year’s operating expenses. To help facilitate this, the association did some formal investing with an investment manager, which generated healthy investment income, leveraged grant money to stabilize operations, and modified the hosting model of the Ontario Rowing Championships and Masters Championships to become a more stable revenue source. Around the same time, the number of registered rowers in the province was also reaching new heights. Now with over 50 clubs and 8,000 individual members, registration numbers had never been higher and the provincial championship events had never been bigger, which had a positive impact on the rowing community in many ways, including at a financial level for the association.

In 2014, a small, but significant change was made at the board level which represented all the progress Row Ontario had made as a provincial sport organization during its 44 years in operation. At the 2014 AGM, the Row Ontario membership passed a motion for the Board of Directors to formally move from an operational board to a policy board. The move was years in the making as the association became more professionalized and had outgrown its humble beginnings where it was run by dedicated volunteers off their kitchen tables.

“The move to a policy board had been talked about for a long time and the transition had started prior to 2014,” said Ventnor. “We had eliminated the District Representative positions in 2010 I think, and it became a competency-based board at that point. Those types of changes were happening at the national level with RCA as well and with a lot of other provincial sport organizations. In reality, we had been operating that way for a while, but I think formally changing the structure of the board was a really smart move and I think almost everybody would agree with that. It allowed the staff to become more responsible and more accountable. It also added a level of professionalism throughout the organization as opposed to running certain things from a kitchen table and through volunteers. The Board still had an extremely important function, and I was lucky throughout my time that I had a strong and supportive board.”

Tom Blacquiere, a long-time umpire and member of the South Niagara Rowing Club followed Dundas as Row Ontario President, serving from 2011-16. Following Blacquiere’s term in office, Chris Waddell from the Ottawa Rowing Club was elected President in late-2016. Ventnor’s 11-year run as Executive Director came to a close in 2017, and he was replaced by Andrew Backer, Row Ontario’s current Chief Executive Officer.

2017 was a busy year on the high performance front for Row Ontario. On the regatta course, Team Ontario competed admirably at the 2017 Canada Summer Games, coming in second behind BC in the overall medal standings for rowing with ten (7 gold, 1 silver, 2 bronze) but bringing home the most gold medals. Off the regatta course, changes to the infrastructure of the national high performance rowing program would have a significant impact on Ontario’s high performance structure.

In 2014, after four years of operation, the National Development Centre – Ontario in Welland was closed. The Row to Podium (RTP) program forged ahead though, with resources put towards strengthening the regional training centres in Peterborough, London, and St. Catharines. In 2017, a change in the direction of the national high performance strategy led to the National Training Centre in London, which had been the home of the women’s national team for over 20 years, re-locating to Victoria, BC. A decrease in high performance funding for provincial programs from the Ontario government, created issues with continuing the RTP program at the regional training centres. Shortly after the National Training Centre re-located, the regional training centres were restructured as RCA Hub Programs, and the RTP program came to a close. The changes left Row Ontario in a challenging spot to provide meaningful high performance programming for up and coming Ontario rowers, with no immediate or obvious solution to backfill provincial programming.

The last half of the 2010’s also saw Row Ontario increase their presence in the hosting of regattas. For many years, Row Ontario had been running two property regattas each year, the Ontario Rowing Championship and the Masters Championship. As the decade progressed, a more diverse range of events was added to Row Ontario’s host properties, starting in 2016 when a partnership was struck between Row Ontario and Ontario University Athletics to host the OUA Rowing Championship. In 2017, the Row Ontario Small Boat Trials were introduced as a high performance regatta that provided an opportunity for Ontario-based rowers to prepare for national team selections and give rowers of all ages and skill levels a chance to develop their 2000m race profile. The following year, the Trillium Chase Regatta Series debuted as a monthly 1x Challenge Series, or a single scullers type of ‘Grand Prix’. In early 2020, Row Ontario also announced that they would take over the hosting duties of the Tony Biernacki Sr. Memorial Regatta from Brock University Rowing. The Tony B. had been run by Brock for 11 years and had become an early season staple on the racing calendar, particularly for masters rowers.

As the 2010’s were coming to a close, Row Ontario was in need of developing a new strategic plan for the association, as the previous strategic plan developed in 2017 was set to expire in 2020. In order to set the course for the association for the next five years, Row Ontario actively engaged the Row Ontario membership throughout the strategic planning process to ensure there was a consultative and collaborative plan in place. The engagement included surveys sent to all rowing clubs, one-on-one interviews with stakeholders, focus groups, and a strategic planning session at the 2019 AGM.

“For this strategic plan we really wanted to hear from the membership about what they wanted from us as their provincial sport organization and the direction they wanted to see the sport go,” said Backer. “We really tried to engage the membership and I think the plan we have in place is really going to help transform, not just rowing in Ontario, but how Row Ontario is going to operate for the next five years. The new strategic plan is going to change the fabric of how we operate into being more of a facilitator of conversations of how to grow and enhance the sport instead of being the one who provides answers when the questions are asked. Everything we ended up accomplishing in 2020 started with the membership’s feedback and with the member-engaged strategic plan.”

The staff expansion that started in the early part of the decade also continued to evolve over the last half of the 2010’s for Row Ontario, with a greater emphasis placed on long-term strategy and objectives that the newly created positions would support. Roles focused on high performance, coaching and umpire development, sport development and events, and communications and community engagement were all added to further professionalize each portfolio. Three more rowing clubs also made their debuts in the last two years as the Cornwall Rowing Club and Trinity College joined the Row Ontario membership in 2019, and Nipissing University Rowing joined in 2020, adding to the over 60 rowing clubs now in the province.

The last year of Row Ontario’s first 50 years was a busy one for the Ontario rowing community as, along with everybody else in the world, they had to navigate unexpected hurdles and challenges brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic. The competitive rowing season across Canada was cancelled, making the first time in many, many years that no on-water inter-club rowing competitions would be held in the country. If Ontario rowing clubs intended on staying open, they also needed to adapt to new health protocols which could change at a moment’s notice when new government restrictions were implemented. Providing a rowing season of any kind required a herculean effort from all the dedicated volunteers throughout the province whose blood, sweat and tears were the primary reason anyone in Ontario was able to climb into a boat in 2020.

Despite the fact that there was no on-water competitive season, progress was made by Row Ontario in a number of different areas. In its 50th anniversary year, Row Ontario launched the Row Ontario Hall of Fame and inducted its first ever hall of fame class. The inaugural class was an all-star group of contributors consisting of Marnie McBean (Elite Athlete), Ned Hanlan (Elite Athlete), 1930-39 Leander Men’s 8 (Crew), Claude Saunders (Builder), Al Morrow (Coach) and Ken Campbell (Umpire). Accomplishing one of the objectives set out in the strategic plan, Row Ontario’s Diversity and Inclusion Committee was also created in 2020 to ensure, at least in part, the fair treatment of every person involved in the sport of rowing in Ontario, that Row Ontario’s objectives are completed in an atmosphere of social justice, equity, and respect for diversity and inclusion, and to ensure that everyone has the opportunity to access the sport of rowing in Ontario in a manner that is relevant and appropriate to them. The annual Row Ontario coaching conference also had to be modified to fit a virtual format, as did many other typical in-person initiatives such as clinics and the AGM.

The largest project in 2020 for Row Ontario though was the creation of the Ontario NextGen Performance Centre. The Performance Centre was opened in Welland in September after a planning phase that included a bidding process for the location of the Centre and equipment supplier as well as a nation-wide search for a head coach. The Performance Centre was created with the goal of providing a world class training environment for Ontario’s brightest up and coming high performance athletes, aligning and complimenting programming in the Canadian high performance system, establishing one centralized daily training environment and creating an ideal hosting environment for all of Row Ontario’s property events. Within three weeks of the Performance Centre opening, RCA and Row Ontario announced a new partnership to deliver a complete pathway of NextGen programming and operations to the Centre and in November, the originally titled Ontario Academy of Rowing was re-christened the Ontario NextGen Performance Centre.

The creation of the Performance Centre also provided an opportunity for Row Ontario to establish a true home for rowing in the province. In September, the Row Ontario office packed up and moved south to its new home in Welland. The office had been located in Toronto since 1987 and had been in four different locations throughout the city. The last big change in the first 50 years of the Ontario Rowing Association/Row Ontario came in the form of a new leader, as Pippa Hobbes was appointed as Chair of the Row Ontario Board of Directors (a title change from President to better reflect the scope of the position) following the AGM in November.

With over 150 years of history, the Ontario rowing community has many known legends and stories from the great clubs, coaches, umpires, rowers, regatta organizers and volunteers who have contributed so much to the sport since its humble beginnings. There are also many untold stories, which have either remained within the communities in which they originated or have been forgotten as time has passed. Since the creation of the Ontario Rowing Association in 1970, the landscape of sport has changed and Row Ontario, along with the Ontario rowing community, has changed along with it. Despite all the challenges brought on by 2020, the sport of rowing in Ontario is in a good place to move forward and encounter new growth, new change, new excitements, new setbacks, new high points, new low points, new frustrations and new collaborations over the next 50 years.

Thank you to Dave Derry, Patrick Okens, Derek Ventnor, Andrew Backer, and Lisa Roddie for their generous contributions to this story. 

Photo Credits:

1996 Men’s Lightweight Four – Collections Canada

2002 FISA World Tour on Rideau Canal – Richard Vincent

2003 Ontario Rowing Championships Ad – Patrick Okens

Row to Podium Logo – Rowing BC