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London Rowing Club

London Rowing Club
Plaque no. 54
Date of plaque unveiling
6 July 2002
Speakers
Barry Moncrieff and Michael F. Murphy
Location
199 Wonderland Road South, London, Ontario
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History

London has a long history in producing some of Canada’s finest rowers. The first documented regatta took place in 1849 between local citizens and British soldiers from the 20th Regiment stationed at today’s Victoria Park. Subsequently, crews from the Arms, the Abbey, and the Tecumseh Hotels clashed oars on the south branch of the Thames River. By 1870, these groups had merged into the London Rowing Club, a development stimulated by the industrial revolution, more leisure time, advancements in technology, and city rivalries.

Two additional factors heightened the interest in rowing. First, when authorities constructed a dam and a waterworks at Springbank Park in 1878 to solve the city’s sanitation problems, they also created a superior rowing course on the main branch of the Thames. Three new rowing clubs sprang into existence. The second influence was the Grand Regatta of July 8, 1880.  Over 3,000 spectators watched Canadian Ned Hanlan, the champion sculler of the world, display his prowess. These circumstances surely prepared London oarsmen for their success at the first Canadian Henley regatta held in Toronto later that year. The future looked bright.

Then tragedy struck on the holiday weekend of May 24, 1881, when the paddle wheeler Victoria sank on its return trip from Springbank Park to London.  Almost 200 lives were lost.  Legend has it that a large number of people rushed to one side of the boat to watch as two scullers powered by, causing the steamer to list and sink.  Enthusiasm for boating was restrained for years.

Although few details have survived for the period between 1890 and 1950, we know that the London Rowing Club later became the London Bowling and Rowing Club; that club members staged an annual regatta each Dominion Day; that LBRC oarsmen won the workboat four race at Henley in 1905; that the clubhouse was heavily damaged by floodwaters; that membership was dormant during the Second World War; and that Londoners re-established the London Rowing Club in 1954, operating it for the next two decades in an old barn at Fanshawe Lake and in a Pump House at Springbank Park.

The pace of change quickened again after 1968 when members founded the Western Rowing Club; replaced the barn at Fanshawe Lake with a modern shellhouse; and moved the London Rowing Club from the Pump House in Springbank Park a mile east to the Joe McManus Canoeing and Rowing Facility.  These improvements helped town-and-gown crews and individuals attain impressive, even Olympic, achievements.  As the twenty-first century dawned, moreover, officials upgraded centre facilities to host Commonwealth Championships, the Canada Summer Games, the World Transplant Games, the Police and Fire Games, and the National Rowing Championships.

Another significant development occurred in the mid-1980s when Rowing Canada awarded High Performance Rowing Centres to London and to Victoria, British Columbia. That decision quickly elevated Canadian rowers to a stature not seen since the time of Hanlan; and London, Ontario, with its once forgotten rowing tradition, is again a proud contributor to these results.