It is fitting that the Kenora Rowing Club was the official site for 2017 Canada Summer Games rowing events as it holds the distinction of having the oldest established rowing club in the region with their history going back to 1890 with the formation of the Rat Portage Rowing Club. Shortly thereafter came the formation of the Keewatin Rowing Club which was active until 1894.
In 1892 a one-half story multi-purpose facility was built on the shores of the downtown harbour which not only served as a boathouse for the club, but also as a home for the agricultural society and a local dance hall and curling club. When the community changed their name to Kenora in 1905 so did the club.
In 1894 the Rat Portage Rowing Club became the first from the region to join the Minnesota-Winnipeg Rowing Association, the forerunner to the North West International Rowing Association (NWIRA). The Fort William Rowing Club (FWRC) joined in 1906 and the Port Arthur Rowing Club was also a member up until the club disbanded in the late 1930s.
Since 1914 the club that earned the most points at the associations’ annual regatta would be awarded the coveted Lipton Cup, a three-foot-high silver trophy donated by Sir Thomas Lipton, of tea company fame.
During those early years, a number of regional rowing crews competed in NWIRA regattas, and clubs hosted the association championships welcoming rowers from Minnesota, Manitoba, and Saskatchewan.
In 1910 the Lake of the Woods was the first of our waterways to host the NWIRA annual regatta, with the Fort William and Port Arthur Clubs co-hosting the 1923 event on the Kaministiquia River.
On July 23, 1930, Kenora earned another spot in the history books by becoming the first club from Northwestern Ontario to claim the coveted Lipton Cup, doing so on their home course, a feat they repeated in 1936.
In 1935 the FWRC won its first of what would be many Lipton Cup titles, including seven consecutive victories between 1937-39 and 1946-49, as no competitions were held between 1940 and 1945 due to the war. Other Lipton Cup honours were garnered in 1952, 1954, 1955, and 1958. In 1978 the Thunder Bay Rowing Club returned to Lipton Cup glory and went on to dominate the event for most of the 1980s.
In 1949 thirty-one members of the FWRC attended the NWIRA regatta in Regina. The description of the three-month training regime that the crew undertook prior to the regatta was impressive. By early June the members were sleeping at the clubhouse rising for morning workouts at 6 am before going to work at their various jobs, only to return for a 6 p.m. workout and heading to bed at 10 p.m.
Their efforts paid off as they returned home from Regina with their record-setting 7th consecutive Lipton Cup title, their 8th up to that point. Between 4,000 to 5,000 people turned out to take in the parade, reception, and gala street dance that was held in their honour upon their return.
Organized by the Fort William Junior Chamber of Commerce and the City Recreational Committee, Mayor Hubert Badanai presented the crew’s captain Bill Watkins with a golden key to the city, marking the first time a local resident had been presented with such an honour.
Although our athletes of today may not train in the same manner, or be welcomed home with such pageantry, we are equally as proud of their accomplishments.
Until next time, keep that sports heritage pride alive.