Downtown Brockville Blog

November 2019

125 Years Young

125 Years Young

The Brockville Rowing Club (BRC), established in 1894, is celebrating their 125th year anniversary this year and they have done so in style. This past August they hosted celebrations that have included a Reunion Gala of Alumni and it has continued through to this month as they accepted the President’s Award at the 60th anniversary of the Brockville and District Chamber’s Awards Gala. During a video acceptance of the award Chris Marshall, Head Coach of the club and High-Performance Manager for ROWONTARIO recognized that the BRC is the city’s oldest social and sporting organization.

125 Year Collage

The entire time, the club has been located at 1 Ferry ST here in Downtown Brockville for ease of access to the St Lawrence River and there have been two buildings during this time that have been home to many world class athletes, scholars and community champions; even veterans over the years. It is hard to say whether it is the club itself or the property that hosts the significant amount of history produced over the years, but one thing is clear the stories it could tell would be unbelievable.

The term “home” is used both figuratively and literally because although it didn’t house all these people within its walls, anyone associated with the life of a rower knows that it is a way of living and success comes from eating, sleeping and working hard at the sport. Rowing has a unique way of entrenching into your identity and sometimes forming roots in your DNA that withstand the test of time - this is evidenced through historical literature including the 100 Years of Rowing book, authored by Donald H Swayne and continuation of family names throughout the club’s history. Chances are good if you are a local, you know someone who is related to this sport even if you don’t know much about it yourself.

 “The Brockville Rowing Club has been a cornerstone in our community” exclaimed Jason Baker, Mayor of the City of Brockville, during the opening ceremonies of their Reunion Gala on day 2 of the 125th Anniversary celebrations this past August, at the Brockville Country Club. This year’s celebration did an excellent job at showcasing the strength of the rowing community by focusing on the history while opening the lines to begin the next chapter, citing that many of their community members will no longer walk this earth for the 150th anniversary and the sport will change a lot from the one we knew.

During the Reunion Gala the BRC awarded their Award of Merit to two recipients who have been true community builders within the club, those awarded were Howard Hanna and Jim Baker. “All those who have been awarded, including 15 past recipients have worked hard throughout a lifelong pursuit to keep the club going and out of receivership. Ironically, only 4 of them ever rowed.” Commented Marshall.

Hall Of Fame - excluding this years recipients

We wondered about the future of the club during the Brockville and District Chamber 60th Anniversary Awards Gala after current President of the club, Katherine Rowan accepted the President’s Award on behalf of the club. While giving appreciations for the award she remarked “As the BRC celebrates 125 years, a milestone not often reached by many organizations…” and continued to acknowledge their successful history. Hearing this statement reminded us that the Brockville Rowing Club is a business and history has shown us its’ strong tendency to prevail and carry the day – most of which has happened behind the scenes.

A few examples of momentous historical victories that highlight these strong tendencies include:

  • 1973 when women officially began to row for the club and gained enough traction to row in the first official Olympic Event in 1976.
  • Operating without coaching staff for 39 odd years in the first 100 years of operation   
  • Several creative fundraising endeavors to keep the club alive
    • Including When Will “Old Meg” Fall where community members would buy tickets and place a bet for when the clock would stop as the old car would fall through the ice on the St Lawrence River

Chris Marshall was kind enough to give us a sneak peak into the future of the Brockville Rowing Club and the sport itself; to our surprise a new history has already begun. At the beginning of the year the club made drastic changes to their coaching style to support different aspirations of the rowers who became involved with their club – options are now available because not everyone has the same goals. There are 3 different levels of competition to support this, levels range engage rowers in a range of 3- 14 practices a week (more depending on the season) to support different outcomes. A level 1 rower would not be subject to the full impact of the rowing life and coaching style unless they changed their aspirations, so this method best utilizes coaches training abilities.

The way training is delivered has changed tremendously due to risks and a decrease in quality water time that is experienced more now than in past years due to an increase in use of pleasure craft on the waterway and weather, “we got out maybe 3X in April this year…” exclaimed Marshall. These are not favourable conditions for a training club of world class rowers. In addition to location, the sport itself is changing and solutions may arise from embracing new methods such as Coastal Rowing.  

Rowers now learn in lightweight sculling boarts

Currently the club’s primary focus is of a junior competitive rowing program that spans 12 – 20 years of age starting with learn to row day camps in the summertime and providing the opportunities to progress toward potential careers as international oarsmen. The potential of these careers is not a longshot as the club has a strong reputation for training those who want to excel to heights of success that can include the Olympics if you’re dedicated enough to put in the work.

This blog, entitled 125 Years Young highlights, that although the sport has existed for centuries and with our local club off to a good start toward this mark, the next chapter is seemingly filled with just as many new, yet exciting, challenges that the club will surely overcome with success as long as we continue to cherish this important pillar. For more information about Rowing programs or how you can become involved please see their website or contact the club directly at or (613) 342-4849.

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