Maritimes Shipping Herald, July-August 1974
Marine Sports: Rowing, Swimming, Sailing
A SHORT HISTORY OF ROWING IN SAINT JOHN, N.B.
By Ronald M. Allan
|Team of Renforth rowers about to put their skif in the water after checking it over. L - R: James Reeves, bow; Mike Kearney, 2; Jack Crawford, 3; Andy Messer, 4; Bob Donner, cox.|
|Four man crew (front to rear) Bill Johns, bow, Pat Flood, 2; Mike Chapman, 3; Dennis Demers, 4 receive a final survey from Coach Tim Frink.|
The formation in 1972 of The Kennebecasis Rowing and Canoe Club located at Renforth, New Brunswick, has rekindled local interest in the world--renowned sport of Rowing.
The sport germinated in three centres of the East Coast of North America in the early 1800's - these being New York, Boston and Saint John. One of the earliest races took place in 1819 - a contest between six-oared pilot skiffs over a six mile course from Reid's Point, around Partridge Island and back.
The first organized Regatta was held in Saint John in 1836. This included races for four-oared pilot gigs, skiffs, doubles, single sculls, sail boats and canoes. The 'Nonpareil', a four oared racing boat built for the occasion by Charles Lawton, was rowed by an amateur crew of clerks and mechanics and won over gigs and pilot boats. This success gave great. Impetus boat building in Saint John.
The first out-rigger was a seventeen foot Madawaska dugout, thirty inches wide with wooden outriggers. This boat was rowed in a regatta by one 'Garvey', who won. Charles Lawton then built a twenty-foot boat 20 inches wide with wooden outriggers. It was first rowed by Lawton, and he won.
The first four-oared race boat to be rowed with outrigged rowlocks was the gig "Experiment", which triumphed in Saint John about 1850 under the oars of the celebrated 'Carleton Crew'. By extending the outrigging three inches from the gunwale, they were able to cover a six mile course in slightly less than 32 minutes. Whereas, the best time earlier crews could do was 41 minutes.
In 1855 a Saint John Crew visited Boston. Morris, Welch,-Lambert, McAuley rowed in "Young Neptune" in a six mile course on the Charles River against a New York crew in the "Ida Putnam" for two hundred pounds a side, and won. The next year, Welch, Lambert and two Morris brothers rowed the six mile course on the Charles River and won. The same year they repeated over a twelve mile course.
In 1867, after five weeks training in Southampton and a fortnight on the Seine, the crew of Robert Fulton, Elijah Ross, Sam Hutton and George Price of The Western Boat Club of Saint John (N. B.) entered the amateur races in the International Regatta in Paris, France. Although the Canadians were given little chance to win, in the first race, against eight competitors and rowing on the gunwales, the wearers of 'pink' from Saint John won by four or five lengths. Forty-five minutes later, the same crew in another boat, rowed against another field of eight, including Oxford & London Rowing Clubs and French and German Crews, and again the Canadians were successful.
We have this account of one of these races:
"The gun went off for the first race and away went the Colonial Crew using a very unorthodox stroke, quick and short, bringing the oar back to their chest. At the first buoy they were many lengths ahead of the next boat which was one of the French entries. The Saint John crew stopped rowing and urged the French crew to catch up. When they did, the Saint John Crew started again, and finished the race in the lead their bow stroke, Fulton, rowing with one hand and waving his other hand.
On its return, the Saint John "Paris" Crew was challenged by the well-known Ward Boemars of New York. In October of 1869, the Saint Johnians traveled to Springfield, Mass., where they soundly trounced the challengers. Thus, they became Champions of North America and defended their title the next year at Lachine, Toronto and Niagara.
The "Paris" Crew's most famous race was against the English Renforth Crew, the only crew to have defeated them (in Montreal in 1870 in rough water). The race was rowed on the Kennebecasis River at the location now called Renforth. Tragically, England's great stroke oar, James F. Renforth, suffered a seizure during the race and died shortly afterward. Hence, the name of the village - "Renforth".
There are other famous crews and oarsmen. Wallace Ross, a sculler, won many big races for 8,000 purses, but space does not permit recording his victories here. Another famous oarsman was Alex Brayley, and in the 1920's, Hilton Belyea won the Canadian Henley Championship twice as well as many Maritime and local championships.
Probably the last of the local competitive crews was composed of Don Armstrong, Jim Flemming, George Wetmore and Pierce Paterson. They rowed in the late twenties and early thirties. When they ceased rowing, rowing itself ceased in the area.
The organization of the Kennebecasis Club has revived the sport of Rowing in Saint John and, who knows, it may again bring honour and glory to New Brunswick.