By Sam Cortes, Communications Coordinator
Rowing was first introduced into the Olympic Games in 1900 in Paris, France. But its competitive heritage can be traced back even further to the 17th century, when regattas, or races, were held on rivers in England.
The Winnipeg Rowing Club started up amid those time periods, beginning in 1881 on the mighty Red River.
This makes it one of the oldest sports clubs in Manitoba history.
It was founded by two cousins, George Galt and John Galt II, whose legacy continues to this day.
George and John were not just figureheads of the club. They were also rowers, and as it turns out, were pretty good at it, too.
Before moving to Winnipeg and creating the club, George had been part of a rowing team in Toronto with the Argonaut Rowing Club, where his team won the Canadian Association of Amateur Oarsmen’s competition twice. John Galt rowed as well, although he was not the club captain, like George.
In 1886, they were part of a team that won its first international competition in Minnesota. It was held on Lake Minnetonka and was the first event put on by the North Western International Rowing Association.
This event put the Winnipeg Rowing Club on the map as they competed against some top competition.
Celebration ensued in hometown Winnipeg when the rowing heroes returned with the city’s first-ever international sports championship. A parade was even held, where it was said that most of Winnipeg showed up.
The Tradition Continues
Throughout its long history, the Winnipeg Rowing Club has competed in many international tournaments, coming away victorious in lots of them.
One team that will never be forgotten is the one that took home the club’s first and only Stewards Challenge Cup in 1910 at the Henley Royal Regatta.
A prestigious tournament held on the Thames River in Oxford England, it is not won by many teams outside of England. It is a rowing event for men’s fours and is open to all eligible rowing clubs worldwide.
The club hasn’t won the tournament since then, but that is not a slight in any way — there have only been a handful of teams from Canada and the USA that have gone on to win it.
Excellence and More Excellence
Over the next 100 plus years, there have been a few very good teams and exceptional individuals that were a part of the Winnipeg Rowing Club who went on to become Manitoba Sports Hall of Fame Honoured Members.
In the early 1930s, there were the likes of Theo Dubois, Eslwood Bole, and Robert Richards, each of them winning numerous rowing championships.
The pairing of Bole and Richards was especially fearsome, winning the Northwestern Rowing Associations senior doubles event and the gold medal at the first-ever British Empire Games (Commonwealth Games) in 1930.
Theo won many Northwestern Singles Championships, winning five in a row by 1939. He also partnered with Ab Riley, forming one of the best senior doubles pairs in North America for many years.
In the 1950s and 60s, J. Derek Riley was a name synonymous with rowing and excellence. He went on to capture seven North Western International Rowing association singles championships.
He also represented Canada at the 1952 Olympics, although things did not go his way there when his equipment was damaged in transit. He had to use inferior equipment, making an already challenging event even harder.
In the 90s and 2000s, there was Colleen Miller, who, along with her partner, went on to win an unprecedented three World Championships in the Lightweight Double Sculls event beginning in the early 90s. She also represented Canada at the 1996 Olympics.
Jeff Powell demonstrated his exceptional skills with an oar, competing internationally on Canada’s eight, winning gold at the World Championships in both 2002 and 2003, and rowing at the Olympic Games in Athens in 2004.
The Winnipeg Rowing Club Today
Today, The Winnipeg Rowing Club operates off of 20 Lyndale Drive on the Red River.
Over the years, they have faced many challenges. For example, the Great Depression, WWI and WII, and weather conditions damaging their club property — but have always persevered, much like many of their athletes.
They offer youth and adult competitive rowing programs and compete both nationally and internationally.
Rowing is not for the faint of heart, though. Keep in mind the sport can be both physically and mentally exhausting, but is incredibly rewarding. If you want to be the best, remember: row hard, or row home!