About The London Rowing Club
For 150 years, London has produced some of the finest rowers in Canada. London Rowing Club members have represented their city with distinction at local, regional, national, and international competitions.
The first documented regatta in London took place in 1849 on a now non-existent lake, Lake Horn (east of the CPR Hotel). The contest involved British soldiers from the Twentieth Regiment, stationed at the military reservation (Victoria Park), as well as the locals. There are shreds of evidence that suggest that regattas were held before 1849, but to date there are no hard facts to substantiate the hypothesis.
Newspaper articles record an increasing number of rowing competitions in the late 1850’s and 1860’s, as crews from the “Arms”, “Abbey”, and “Tecumseh” hotels clashed oars. However, by 1870 these rowing enthusiasts coalesced under one banner, that of the London Rowing Club. The formation of the LRC was the result of a melange of factors that dramatically changed the nature of the sport in the second half of the nineteenth century. Advancing technology (railways and steamboats) increased the sphere of competition, as city, not local, rivalries were intensified. Accordingly, the best oarsmen in London gravitated to one club, the LRC, to compete against the best from other cities, towns and villages.
Two other import factors heightened Londoner’s consciousness of rowing in the late 1870’s and early 1880’s. First, in 1878, a new dam and waterworks were constructed at Springbank Park to solve the city’s sanitation problems. Suddenly, a superior rowing course appeared on the main branch of the Thames. At least three new rowing clubs sprang into existence: the Forest City Rowing Club, the Bank of Commerce Rowing Club, and the Hanlan Boat Club. Moreover, the established club, the London Rowing Club, moved downstream to the forks of the Thames to take advantage of the new course.
Second, the “hero” and the “event” had a large role in raising Londoner’s awareness of rowing. The “Grand Regatta”, on July 8, 1880, has had no parallel since. Over 3,000 spectators thronged to the event to view the incomparable Ned Hanlan, the champion sculler of the world. In all likelihood, the combination of these two factors prepared London oarsmen for their success at the first Henley regatta later on that year. Thus, the future of rowing in London looked promising until tragedy struck in 1881. Rowing would not fully recover for another 80 years.
On May 24, 1881, the steamer “Victoria” sank on its return trip from Springbank Park to London. Almost 200 lives were lost. Legend has it that two scullers were rowing against each other; and as they passed the Victoria, a large number of people rushed to one side to view them. This action eventually caused the ship to sink. As a result, boating enthusiasm was severely dampened for years thereafter.
Much work yet needs to be done on the period 1890 to 1950, but the following information is known. Apparently the LRC, around the turn of the century, became the London Bowling and Rowing Club. The LBRC staged a popular annual regatta on Dominion Day. However, the club was decimated by the severe floods which swept through London in the late 1930’s and 1940’s and did not survive the second world war. In 1954, a new LRC was formed, and it operated out of several venues: Lake Fanshawe, the forks of the Thames, and the Pump House in Springbank Park. In the 1950’s and 1960’s LRC members were mainly university and high school students.
By the late 1960’s and early 1970’s, LRC was again ready to flex its muscles. The key ingredients–dedicated coaching; successful crews; a new facility; sound administrative and financial direction; and strength down the center (a strong high school and recreational program)-fused to thrust LRC into national prominence. Both on and off the water, LRC’s vital statistics placed it at the top of the Canadian rowing scene.
In 1983, the Club’s Directors decided that, to maintain a high school program that would encourage potential young rowers, a training facility should be added to the Clubhouse. This would include an indoor rowing tank, which would allow rowing technique to be developed during the winter months. A fund-raising drive supported to a large extent, by Col. Tom Lawson’s interest and enthusiasm, resulted in two projects, the raising and operating of the Guy Lombardo Museum, the completion of the Club expansion, which included the tank room facility.
It is important to note that athletes from London and Western until the mid-1980s were compelled to leave the city in order to try out for the national team. That would change in 1986, however, as the major rowing groups in London consolidated their efforts and resources to win a High Performance Rowing Centre (a new concept) from Rowing Canada Aviron, one of two centres that were put up for bids that year. The second centre was awarded to Victoria, British Columbia, where it remains today. These decisions were important ones for Canadian rowing. The establishment of High Performance Centres in London and Victoria, along with several other important organizational changes, dramatically transformed rowing in Canada. In a few short years, Canadian rowers, many of whom lived and trained in London and Victoria, were elevated to a popularity not seen since the time of Hanlan; and the small but competent system which had produced these exceptional athletes was studied by admirers both at home and abroad. Not surprisingly, Canadians now expect their rowing heroes to march regularly to the medal podiums; and London, Ontario, with its once forgotten rowing tradition, is again a proud contributor to these results.