The Head of the Trent Keeps Getting Bigger and Better
Community News/ Oct 30

The Head of the Trent Keeps Getting Bigger and Better

The 2023 edition of the annual Head of the Trent regatta was the 52nd in its storied history. The event has grown and evolved over the years since its humble beginnings in 1971, when the first edition featured only 13 boats with rowers from Trent University and a small selection of other Ontario universities.

Run by the Peterborough Rowing Club, this year’s event set the record for the number of entries with 573, an increase in over 100 entries in just the last two years. One of the main reasons behind the increase was the move from a one-day regatta, which it was for the first 48 years, to a two-day regatta in 2019. The move allowed for more flexibility within the schedule and allowed the race organizers to expand to a more inclusive race schedule.

“We were really tapping out on our capacity for one day and we saw a need and an interest from the rowing community to do more racing,” said Jurgen Schubert, Co-Chair of the Head of the Trent. “2019 was our first attempt at two days. It went well, and we had an increase in participants, but then COVID kind of de-railed things. We went back to a one-day in 2021, but the last two years were a two-day format. I think everyone is on board now with the two days and what it offers in terms of the quality of racing, the atmosphere and the longevity of the event. We’re starting to hit our stride and reaching numbers we’ve never reached before.”

Part of the reason for the expansion to two-days was logistical. The geography of the Trent Canal allows for only a one-way traffic pattern, so flights of boats are sent down to the start line, and then race back in the same direction. With a tight one-day schedule, rowers couldn’t compete in back-to-back flights. The expansion to two days has created a more relaxed schedule, which has allowed rowers to compete in more races. It has also created an opportunity to include more events for all levels of rowers, one of the goals of the Peterborough Rowing Club.

“The PRC has really pushed itself to say that even as a middle-sized club, we can be all things to all people and push ourselves beyond what people think we’re capable of,” said Neil Horne, Co-Chair of the Head of the Trent and long-time member of the PRC. “We want to be able to provide a good rec program, a good masters program, and be open to racing for all, and we felt that the regatta needed to reflect that.”

Where the first edition of the Head of the Trent ran events for only male and female university rowers, the 52nd edition ran events for youth, junior, varsity, novice, senior, and alumni competitors, in male, female, and mixed categories across every possible boat class. One of the goals of the regatta organizers is to make the Head of the Trent a fall destination regatta for clubs and rowers of all levels.

“We’ve added more junior events and more masters events, to give people more options,” said Schubert. “We see the value in giving clubs options. We hope with all these events we can give clubs and rowers of all levels, an end of the year goal to race at Head of the Trent. No one will feel overwhelmed, and we’ll create an inclusive and welcoming environment for everyone to participate in a regatta.”

A few other small changes on the technical side of the regatta have resulted in a better experience for rowers. The regatta has solidified its timing system, which has allowed for faster results. The new system has created an opportunity for more formal medal presentations, which was always a struggle in the past. The organizers now set up a medals table and presentation area, and shined up some old trophies and purchased some new ones to add to the regatta experience for the rowers. What used to be a mad dash to finish the day and get the trailers loaded has now changed to an environment where almost everyone comes and picks up their medals and enjoys their accomplishments.

The changes in recent years to the Head of the Trent have added value to what was already a successful event and a unique regatta experience. The sight of the canal lined with spectators is familiar to those who have attended the event and is something that can’t be experienced anywhere else. The event also coincides with Trent University homecoming, meaning many people are coming back into the Peterborough community, whether to row or for other social activities. The alumni component is important to the event and adds a nostalgic feel to the weekend.

“In our programs at the PRC and for the Head of the Trent we’ve started to use the phrase ‘return to rowing’ a lot,” said Horne. “And not just from a competitive standpoint, for volunteers as well. We’ve created an environment here where it’s a fun environment for volunteers and for people to come back to rowing. This year we had people come to specifically volunteer at the regatta, who are not rowers, who came from across the country. We had volunteers from Miami, Port Hardy (BC), Squamish (BC), Calgary, and Cornerbrook (NFLD), which was awesome to see. And on the racecourse, some of the alumni events are really starting to generate excitement. We’re starting to see some ex-national team rowers or long-time club rowers start to challenge each other to show up to Head of the Trent and have a go against each other to see who is still in the best shape.”

Some of those national team alumni included Rob Marland and Darren Barber, both members of the 1992 Olympic gold medal-winning men’s eight, who chased each other down the course in the masters men’s single this year. Horne also points to seeing members of the PRC and Trent University win medals as some of the on-the-course highlights from this year’s event, as well as the reopening of the iconic Pig’s Ear Tavern (A 106 year old local pub, that closed and was re-opened by a group of former Trent rowers), and the volunteer party, which he hosted at his house, as some of the off-the-course highlights.

Despite the record number of entries, the Co-Chairs of the Head of the Trent still see an opportunity expand and are already making plans on how to raise the bar in future years. They hope to increase sponsorship, add more clubs from the US and Quebec to the participant list, and one day incorporate prize money into some of the events.

“We’re already having conversations about how do we one up it next year,” said Schubert. “It’s fun to work with someone like Neil, we see the Head of the Trent as a fall rowing festival for Ontario rowing. We want it to be recognized by all clubs across Ontario as a great place to bring all levels of athletes for both a fun and competitive regatta. So, we’re continuing to push ourselves. It’s definitely a passion project for both of us to keep growing the regatta and see it continue to make its mark on the Canadian rowing scene.”