Rowing in Kingston - A Short History 1832 to 1981

The first recorded history of interest in rowing in Kingston was reported in the Chronicle and Gazette in 1832 when a letter to the editor from "Nautilus" was published exhorting Kingstonians to organize "the Annual Kingston Regatta". Similar sentiments were expressed in a letter to the editor of the Kingston Herald the following year. It was not until July 5, 1837 that the first recorded competition occurred. The race was held on the north side of the Cataraqui River from a point opposite a tent to a boat moored off Belle Island, a distance of one and one quarter miles. The decade of the 1840's saw a keen rivalry between rowers from Wolfe Island and the mainland. In the early 1850's interest in rowing in Kingston waned.

The 1870's witnessed the booming popularity of rowing in Canada led by the famous Ned Hanlan, who's parents lived in Kingston for some time. In 1881 the Canadian Association of Amateur Oarsmen (CAAO), now Rowing Canada, was founded. On April 25, 1881 the Kingston Rowing Club was founded under the leadership of Mayor E.J.B. Pense who was elected the first President. Construction of a new clubhouse was commenced at the foot of William Street. The first regatta was held on Dominion Day, 1881. Once again interest in rowing in Kingston declined with few regattas reported in the 1880's. A one-quarter mile sculls race was held in 1896 to commemorate the opening of the Kingston Yacht Club.

Rowing in Kingston did not return until the fall of 1973 when a Queen's University crew organized under the initiative of student and Olympian Peter Barr, a former Sir Winston Churchill rower from St.Catharines and George Gage, a first year law student from Hamilton. Other members of the crew were cox Dave Takata and rowers Al Pasemko, Paul Sczusinski and Phil Tarawa of St. Catharine's, Fraser MacKay and Larry Cooper of Ridley and Jimmy Earle of Brockville. The crew trained on the Inner Harbour in a borrowed shell from the Brockville Rowing Club and received coaching from the famous Neil Campbell of St Catharine's and the infamous Chris Leach from Peterborough. They placed third in the varsity eight final at the OUAA's, Queen's first ever appearance at this event.

In June 1975 Bruce Alexander, a member of the Queen's Board of Trustees proposed the establishment of a rowing team at Queen's. In October the Queen's Board commissioned a feasibility report by rowing coach Douglas Clark. In April 1976 Mr Clark completed a 31-page report, which recommended an independent rowing club at Queen's under a full time coach. The report was considered at the May meeting of the Board. Two enterprising students, Mark Evans and John Nesbitt, represented student interest in forming a rowing team. John Nesbitt met with Principal Ronald Watts, a former Oxford rower himself, to argue for funding for a rowing team. With Dr. Watts' approval he then met with athletics administrators to argue for funding for rowing. John Armitage and Ian McFarlane then met with sceptical athletic directors Al Lenard and Anne Turnbull to commit to coaching the Queen's team for an initial period of five years. Travel funding for two teams was obtained and rowing was admitted as probationary sport for one year. A "Rowing is Growing" recruiting rally at Stirling Hall in the fall of 1977 led to the formation of a novice and varsity men's eight and a novice and varsity women's eight. The novice men's eight, coached by Ian McFarlane won Queen's first OUAA rowing championship that fall.

The March-April, 1976 edition of the Queen's Alumni Review carried an article outlining the future of rowing at Queen's and invited comment. Two former rowers, Ian McFarlane and John Armitage responded with letters to Michael Davies offering their services. During October and November 1976 a series of meetings chaired by Michael Davies, who was the publisher of The Whig Standard, was held to discuss the viability of a rowing club to serve Kingston and district. This led to the formal inauguration of The Kingston Rowing Club at a meeting at City Hall on February 2, 1977. Michael Davies was elected President with John Armitage as Secretary and Terry Kelly as Treasurer. By April a novice men's and women's eight from KCVI were working out daily on the Inner Harbour in an old Pocock shell purchased from Princeton University. The boats were stored in the Whig Standard newsprint warehouse located at the end of a laneway off Rideau Street at Cataraqui Street. The new club's first gold medal came at the Ontario Summer Games in Kitchener in August with an upset win in the women's eight.

On May 28, 1978 the first major regatta to be held in Kingston, The Eastern Rowing Association High School Championships, took place. The sod turning for the clubhouse at Orchard Street Park took place at the Second Annual Kingston regatta on May 27, 1979.The new shell house was officially opened on May 25, 1980.

Unlike the attempts to introduce rowing in the 1830's and 40's and again in the 1880's and 90's, the efforts of the 1970's have borne success. Kingston and Queen's rowers have won gold medals at every level of competition from the Olympics to local regattas. The sport is firmly engrained in Kingston with more than 1000 participants annually launching from a 9000 square foot boathouse located on Orchard street Park and containing some sixty shells. Countless people in this area have come to enjoy a sport that Pierre de Coubertain, the founder of the modern Olympics called "the most beautiful exercise there is".

This article is based on the book "Rowing In Kingston: A Brief Historical Sketch" written by George Henderson (date unknown), assistance from John Nesbitt and Sharon Broderick (wife of Peter Barr), and articles from The Whig standard October 25, 1973, The St. Catharine's standard Nov 2, 1973 and the Queen's Journal, Nov 16, 1973