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History of Rowing In Canada and World


Rowing refers to an instigated motion of boats by the use of oars. It is a form of competition in which participants compete in propelling their boats on water surface that could either be a river, lake or an ocean. This paper seeks to discuss the history of rowing. The paper will look into the origin of rowing, its developments over time as well as its social, political and economic impacts on the lives of its participants. The paper will also discuss challenges that have been facing participants in the sport of rowing together with possible solutions to these problems. The discussion will be biased towards the sport in Canada.


The sport of rowing involves the competitive propelling of the rowing vessels on water. The vessels used in rowing could either be “boats or specially designed racing shells with oars on water” (Roger 1). The sport of rowing is believed to have started by as early as 400 BC. Evidence of arts and writings has been found that closely relates the origin of rowing to the earlier days of civilization in places such as “Greece, Rome, Egypt, Japan and England” (Roger 1).

The timeline of the origin of rowing is supported by the idea that it could have been invented about two thousand years ago. It is believed that rowing was developed for economic activities such as transportation. The act of rowing was enhanced by the Greece discovery that saw the replacement of paddles with oars. Unlike the paddles that were manned by the people aboard the vessel, the oars are put onto the vessel with a fulcrum to enhance the effectiveness of the movement of the vessel being rowed (Library 1).

The development of rowing as a sport is, however, believed to have started in the early years of eighteenth century. The first rowing race is believed to have been organized by an Irish in the year 1715. In this old time competition, the organizer, Weil Thomas, offered coats and badges to winners in his rowing competition. Though their economic value was not significant, coats and badges offered honor to the extent of recognitions in state occasions (Weil 1)

In Canada, the sport of rowing was established by immigrants who moved into Canada from England in the earlier years of the nineteenth century. The first Canadian rowing race was organized in the year 1816 (Jrank 1). The sport of rowing has developed into a variety of styles that are distinguishable by the number of people per boat and the type of boat used in a rowing competition. In Canada, the oldest style of rowing that is again still in existence is the St. John’s regatta which was first used in the year 1818.

In this particular racing, six men are supposed to row one boat which is considerably heavier as compared to the other boat types rowed by single people. The sport then developed into the establishment of clubs for the sport in Canada. Clubs such as Halifax are reported to be as old as being in existence from the year 1820. The rowing sport then spread in Canada to reach the communities in the upper region of Canada by the year 1840. Regions like “Toronto, Brockville, Monkton and Cobourg” (Roger 1) experienced the sport through the development of rowing clubs in these regions.

The spread of the rowing sport in Canada was at the same time coupled with development of skills among Canadians in the rowing sport. There were some Canadians who became so skilled in the sport that they gained international recognition in rowing. Canadians, by this time, started international competitions that were majorly organized in Canada and the United States. Competition against foreigners like those from England as well as those from the United States both in Canada and outside the country of Canada led to accorded respect of Canadian participants in “both amateur and professional races” (Roger 1). Outstanding rowing performance in Canada was realized by a fisherman by the name George Brown.

Following his participation in rowing competition in Canada in the second half of the nineteenth century, Brown was honored for his rowing abilities not only in Canada, but even in the United States and in England. He won a number of titles in this particular sport in all these countries. The nation of Canada, for such international performances, honored the fisherman as a national personality with respect to the particular sport of rowing (Roger 1).

The sport then developed in Canada to an extent that by the year 1932, contestants from Canada were reckoned with in international rowing competitions. International appearances of Canadian rowers are believed to have started in the nineteenth century with Brown’s victory in the 1880s of what was comparable to the currently popular world championship. A group of Canadians were also globally recognized for their rowing abilities in France in the year 1867.

International accords continued to be received by Canadian rowers in such competitions, including the 1932 Olympic Games and other international rowing competitions of the time. The sport of rowing acquired a setback later in time when little or no international titles were won by Canadian sportsmen and women. It, however, experienced a comeback towards the end of the twentieth century. In the Olympic Games held in Los Angeles in the year 1984, the pride of Canadian rowing sportsmen, women and supporters were renewed as Canada once again rose to international glory in rowing competitions.

It was during this Olympic Games that “for the first time in Canadian Olympic history men’s eight oared crew coached by Neil Campbell, won the gold medal” (Roger 1). Canadian women contenders in rowing also won a number of medals during the same Olympic Games competitions. After this particular Olympic Games, subsequent successes followed Canadian rowing teams with a number of awards in international rowing championships. The same success was again witnessed among Canadian rowers in the later 1992 Olympic Games which were held in Barcelona.

Both men and women categories were active medal winners in rowing in the Olympics. The country’s performance however declined again after the Barcelona Olympics. The success of this type of sport in Canada is seemingly dependent on factors that exhibit seasonality in success of both men and women in the rowing international competitions (Roger 1).

Developments of Rowing in Canada

Following its establishment and initial developments in Canada, rowing as a sport was organized and managed in a manner that more likely resembled localized arrangements. If a person felt like organizing a rowing competition, then such could be done at the person’s discretion. There was not a central organization for rowing in Canada until in 1880 when a body was established to govern the sport in Canada. A body by the name “Canadian association of amateur oarsmen” (Port 1) was then established for the specific objective of governing the sport in Canada (Port 1). The body then established an annual rowing competition in the country leading to the development of “the Royal Canadian Henley regatta” (Port 1).

The Henley regatta was initially circulatory and was organized in a number of locations in Canada before a fixed place was decided in the year 1903. The annual competition was then scheduled to be permanently conducted at St. Catharine’s of port Dalhousie. The port which is located in the ancient Welland canal was furbished by technologies that were comparable to the then English Henley. A number of developments have been undertaken in the Dalhousie port since its construction at the beginning of the twentieth century. The grandstand at the port which was for example made of wood has long been replaced by steel and concrete.

Gender sensitivity developments have also been since witnessed with the introduction of the women’s participation in the formerly male perceived sport. The port was also upgraded to international standards in the year 1964 when adjustments were made including that of the “racing distance” being increased to two thousand meters (Port 1). A number of developments have also been constantly undertaken with regard to facilities at the Canadian port. Developments have been done to update Canadian rowing facilities to the world’s developing standards and technologies (Port 1).

The development of rowing has also over time been characterized by increased support from private sectors and the government. In the year 2010, for example, the government of Canada moved in to support a rowing competition that was held in Ontario. The government through its ministry of sports and ministry of natural resources announced its intention to finance the 2010 common wealth rowing championship. The step, like many other sponsoring measures with respect to rowing, is also an indication of how much the sport has developed since its establishment in Canada.

Development from organization of a competition by a fisherman in the early years of nineteenth century to the current organizations and supports that rowing competitions receive is a great improvement. A comparison between the first rowing competition in which coats and badges were offered to the current gifts like medals and financial rewards is a great contrast. While the badges and the coats were nationally and internationally recognized in the early nineteenth century, current organization of such high level rowing competitions are sophisticatedly organized with a wide base of support that includes government’s funding and support.

In confirming the 2010 Canadian government support towards the commonwealth championship, the Canadian sports minister reported that “our government is proud to support the 2010 edition” (Schneider 1) of the commonwealth rowing championships. The government of Canada has also indicated its aims of ensuring the inclusion of the sport in commonwealth games. Schneider further explained that the government is a major contributor to sports activities in Canada. With specification to rowing, the government has therefore taken over the support of the sport ensuring stability in providing facilities and finances necessary for rowing in the country (Schneider 1).

Measures have also been taken by various bodies that organize rowing in Canada to ensure the development of the sport in the country. Organizations such as “rowing Canada Aviron, rowing BC and Canadian sports center pacific” (Rowing 1) have come together to ensure that rowing is developed to a higher level. This move of integrating the organization involves sharing of facilities and resource by sportsmen and women in the province.

This combination of resources has the effect of exposing the players to a range of skills from different coaches that would eventually Impact the players to improved performances. The director of rowing BC for example agreed that the arrangement would ensure “the next generation of high performance rowers” (Rowing 1). The arrangement is expected to improve training processes as well as the level of performances of players in the sports competitions (Rowing news 1).

Impacts of Rowing

Rowing as a sport is considered to be media for social interactions as people interact during sporting activities either as the sports participants or as spectators. International sports activities also attract participants as well as fans from across the globe. The rowing sport will therefore in event of an international activity attract the international community into the hosting country yielding income to its economy in the form of the visitors’ expenditure and general increased trade experienced during such events. The participants to the sports are similarly rewarded during such competitions and further recognition of winners by awards such as medals and other offers.

The sport of rowing is therefore effective in shaping the economic status of the sportsmen and women in Canada as well as the Canadian economy in the event of hosting an international rowing competition. Developed rowing facilities also attract foreign tourists thereby yielding more income to tourism investors as well as the government (Mysuncoast 1). According to experts the audience who come to watch the rowing games are usually huge and they have a great impact on the economy of nation (Mysuncoast 1).

The development of the rowing sport and its facilities in Canada has therefore put the country and a number of other third parties at an economic advantage due to the attraction of the facilities. Third parties like investors in accommodation, catering, security and even transport and communications among others are immediate economic benefactors of the developments of rowing sport and facilities in Canada. The sport being of significant economic importance has the potential to draw political attention to its management to attract foreign earnings into any host country, Canada inclusive. The development of a national body to administrate over rowing also enlists political environments in the organization in terms of transfer of leadership (Mysuncoast 1).

The sport of rowing also has impacts on people’s social lives. Amanda Gill, a business analyst, claimed that rowing “also gives you a massive structure and goals in life when others are drinking or watching television” (Watson 1). The group participation in rowing also has a social impact on the sportsmen as a group. There is an established relation between the rowing partners that can affect a person’s social interactions. A respondent explained that once a person is a member of a rowing group, there is a tendency to regularly attend training sessions. This in the first place increases a person social interaction which would not otherwise be achieved if the person was isolated in his or her private home or residence.

The respondent further argued that “when eight people depend on you turning up, it’s hard not to bother through idleness” (Watson 1). The engagement in rowing either as a participant or a spectator will improve an individual’s interaction with other people and reduce idleness and boredom which can lead to stress and further negative side effects of stress. Rowing, like any other sport, is therefore a social essence in Canada (Watson 1).

Canadian Performance in Rowing in the 1976 Olympics

Canada experienced a generally poor performance in the 1976 Olympics that it hosted. Canada failed to win either a single gold or silver, and only managed to win two bronze medals. The medals were also not attributed to Canadian rowing (The Canadian 1). In the women’s single sculls category, no Canadian woman participant was anywhere within the top five rankings. A duo, Beverly Cameron and Cheryl Howard only managed to finish at position six behind teams from countries like the Soviet Union, Norway, Bulgaria, East Germany and the United States in the women’s double.

The poor performance was equally realized in other categories of Canadian rowing teams with the relatively best performance by ranking being realized in the “women’s eight with coxswain” in which the Canadian women’s team came fourth (Sports 1).

The men’s performance in the same rowing competition was worse than that of women based on rankings. The Canadian male rowing team only managed position eight in the “men’s eight with coxswain” and position five in the “men’s four without coxswain” (Sports 1). The other categories of the Canadian men’s rowing team experienced dismal performances that they don’t even feature in the lists that only records limited number of top performers per category (Sports 1). The country’s performance in international rowing competitions is however seen to have improved with a global ranking of position three by medals acquired in an international competition in the year 2008 (Guardian 1)

Women’s participation in rowing

Even though the sport of rowing was developed almost two centuries ago, it was primarily dominated by men. Women kept a low profile in the sport to the extent that their participation was not recorded in competitions until some few decades ago. According to Mendenhall’s (n.d.), women kept off rowing until the second half of the twentieth century when their active participation in rowing sport was witnessed. It is however noted that there had been some passive participation of women in rowing from as early as the year 1877. These participations in rowing were however meant for leisure activities rather than as sport. It was for example not until the year 1962 when an establishment was made in the United States for participation of women in the sport of rowing. During this time, a team was formed to organize and run the sport of rowing among women.

The development of women’s participation in the sport in the United States led to their participation in the Olympics games that were later organized in the year 1976. Participation of women in the sport has since been developing in the United States and other countries. The development into involvement of women in rowing has enabled them to reap benefits such as “competitions, funding and scholarships” (Mendenhall 1). Such benefits, accorded by stake holders in rowing, were previously available only to men who had been competing in rowing (Mendenhall 1).

The late development of women’s participation in competitive rowing tournaments is supported by long beach rowing association. The association recounts that the women’s participation was a product of a renaissance that was developed before the year 1970 in the United States. With reference to one of the teams in the United States at the time, LBRA, first female participants in rowing were registered in the year 1970 and these women were coached into winning in national competition that was held in the following year. The sport then grew among women in the United States and their subsequent participation in the Olympics games in Montreal in the year 1976.

The country’s participation in the 1976 women’s rowing the 1976 Olympics saw the United States win a number of gold medals subject to its women rowers. The 1976 Olympics was landmark for women; this is expressed by Nadia Hedrei, mother of Canada’s current head coach:

The most exciting aspect of the 1976 Montreal Olympics was seeing the Canadian women race at the Olympic Basin. I was thrilled to see women participating at the Olympic rowing level, side by side with the men. (Hedrei 1)

The involvement of women in rowing can therefore be identified to have rapidly developed after its establishment in the second half of the twentieth century (Longbeach 1). The participation of women in Olympics rowing competitions was introduced in the Olympics games that were held in Montreal, Canada. The game was previously meant for men only at the Olympics. The introduction was still not open to all women, but rather to heavy weight category only. Introduction of light weight category of women participants was then later introduced in Olympics games in the year 1996.

The trend of involvement of women in the sport of rowing as well as the trend of their inclusion into Olympics games that started with heavy weight category before the inclusion of the light weight category also reveals the case of gender orientation that the sport was perceived to have. It seemed as though for some reasons, the game was considered to be a bit risky for women (Drinkwater 486).


Rowing was introduced in Canada in the early years of the nineteenth century. The sport became established in Canada to an extent that Canadian players became internationally recognized in rowing. The good performance of Canadians in rowing is however not consistent as evidenced by their poor performance in the Montreal Olympics that was held in the year 1976. The performance of Canadian rowers is identified to have a variety of impacts ranging from economical, social to political impacts on participants and other parties like investors and the government. The sport which was initially reserved for men only was later liberalized to include women as well with their selective and initial inclusion being affected in the 1976 Olympics games. The trend of gender involvement in the game indicates some sense of gender inequality with respect to abilities.

Works Cited

Drinkwater, Barbara. Women in sport. Malden, MA: Wiley-Blackwell, 2000. Print.

Guardian. Olympics 2008: rowing. Guardian, 2008. Web.

Hedrei, Nadia. “Re: 1976 Montreal Olympics.” Message to Mark. 2011. Interview.

Jrank. Rowing. Jrank, 2011. Web.

Library. The history of rowing. Library Think Quest, n.d. Web.

Longbeach. History of rowing. Long Beach Rowing. Web.

Mendenhall, Thomas. A brief history of rowing. August Starowing, n.d. Web.

Mysuncoast. Experts say expanded rowing park could have huge economic impact. My Sub Coast, 2010. Web.

Port. A history of port Dalhousie. Port Memories, n.d. Web.

Roger, Jackson. Rowing. Canadian Encyclopedia, 2011. Web.

Rowing news. Rowing Canada’s new high performance partnership. Rowing News, 2011. Web.

Schneider, Venessa. Government of Canada supports the 2010 commonwealth rowing championships. News, 2010. Web.

Sports. Rowing Olympic Games. The Sports organization, 2011. Web.

The Canadian. Olympic Games, summer. The Canadian Encyclopedia, 2011. Web.

Watson, Angus. Rowing for fun, fitness and friends. FT, 2006. Web.

Weil, Thomas. A brief timeline of rowing history. Rowing History, 2005.

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