76th Annual CSSRA · June 2-4, 2023
History of High School Rowing
By Bill Stevens – September 20, 2012
High School or Secondary School Rowing has a dual history: the first being High School events at the Royal Canadian Henley Regatta and secondly the establishment of a regatta strictly for high school events run by the Canadian Secondary Schools Rowing Association. As well, there was a high school regatta held in Toronto up until 1941 for Toronto high schools.
Part One – High School events at the Royal Canadian Henley Regatta
In 1903 the Canadian Association of Amateur Oarsmen held the Royal Canadian Henley Regatta on the Old Welland Canal at Port Dalhousie, which became the permanent site of the Regatta.
The regatta evolved over time and at one time held races for crews representing high schools. In 1924 the high school four race was introduced to the Henley program, followed in 1925 by the high school eight event. These events continued to be held, for example, in 1940 the two events were held for High School Fours and High School Eights. In these two 1940 events, 11 high schools competed: Bloor Collegiate Institute, Brockville H.S., Central Tech., Ecorse H.S., Grosse Pointe H.S., Lachine H.S., Lafayette H.S., New York H.S., St. Catharines Collegiate Institute, Western Tech, Westdale Collegiate Institute.
In 1945 a War Hero’s Dad Donated a significant high school event trophy which the Henley Aquatic Association announced recently that the Canadian Association of Amateur Oarsmen which annually conducts the Canadian Henley rowing races over the one mile and 550 yards course at St. Catharines, had received a new trophy for high school eight-oared crews. It was donated by W. B. Cleland and will be known as the Calder Cleland Memorial Trophy, in honor of Mr. Cleland’s son, PO Calder Cleland, R.C.A.F., killed in action over Sicily July 3, 1943. (source: SYRACUSE HERALD-AMERICAN, Sunday, September 2, 1945)
In June of 1974 the high school eight was the last high school event was formally removed from the race program of the Royal Canadian Henley Regatta. The dropping of this event marked the end of a 50-year association with schoolboy rowing at the CAAO level. Ridley College of St. Catharines was the last crew to win the high school eight race at Henley in 1973.
Part Two – Early Toronto High School Rowing
The following is part of a brief history of the Canadian Secondary Schools Rowing Association by Silvio Palumbi: Competitive High School rowing began in the Toronto area of Canada in the 1940’s when a group of inspired individuals saw the need for high school rowing for boys and formed an organization to do just that. With Tom Carson as President, Sam Wells as First Vice-President and Tom Wells as Second Vice-President the group went about organizing a competition for high school boys in the Toronto area.
The races were held inside the break wall of the Toronto harbour for protection because the waters of Lake Ontario are unpredictable and rough. The regatta involved open type racing where boys were taught to row then race in eights. Later it was decided to add weight class events since many of the boys in the junior grades were between 120 and 160 pounds, and to add races in fours, pairs and singles.
When the Canada Catering Company donated a trophy to “the School Boy Regatta” the highlight of the regatta was rowing for that trophy. At this point in its history it became a regatta open to other high schools outside of the Toronto area.
(according to a 1946 newspaper article -see below – the last regatta was held in 1941before being resurrected as a “federal” regatta in 1946)
Part Three – Canadian Secondary Schools Rowing Association Regatta
Based upon a newspaper article written in 1946, it would appear that the first regatta for all Canadian High Schools to compete in was held on Saturday, June 8, 1946. The newspaper article written by Jim Vipond appears in the June 10, 1946 Globe and Mail, is titled “Parkdale CI Eight wins Canadian Rowing Title”. The article goes on to read: “They finished the first “federal” regatta of the Canadian Secondary Schools Rowing Association by moonlight in front of the Argonaut Rowing Club Saturday night. And when the last race was over there were many rowing enthusiast more convinced than ever that the sheltered water of the site of the Canadian Henley is the only place to hold rowing regattas. The Parkdale Collegiate won the Canadian schoolboy rowing championship.” The article goes on to say that much damage was done to several racing shells and that most coaches including CSSRA President Cliff Shuttleworth of Hamilton would be promoting St. Catharines for future regattas. The article continues: “This was the first post war meet of the CSSRA, the last regatta being held in 1941, and the first occasion in which other than Toronto crews participated. As late as the eve of the regatta it had been expected that crews would enter from high schools in at least seven Ontario and Quebec cities.” In the end only crews fro Toronto, Hamilton and St. Catharines competed. This regatta also featured a singles and fours race. (source: 100 years in a row -page 70)
In 1947 the regatta indeed moved to the Henley course in St. Catharines and has been held here ever since. The regatta was held on June 14, 1947 and featured six events. Based upon the 1945 newspaper article, it would have been the second annual regatta that featured crews other than those from Toronto only.
In 1948 a regatta program was produced and the Schoolboy regatta held Saturday, June 5, 1948 and the program cover touts the regatta as being the Third Annual Regatta and subsequently every year thereafter the regatta has been numbered accordingly.
In 1975 the most expensive sporting trophy in Canada, the Calder Cleland memorial trophy was transferred from the Henley to the CSSRA Regatta and continues to be the premier high school trophy to win.
In a brief history of the Canadian Secondary Schools Rowing Association History by Silvio Palumbi he provides the following more recent history: “In the 1976 the Canadian Secondary Schools Rowing Association introduced events for female competitors since many high school female athletes were interested in rowing. With the restructuring of events that took place at a later time, the regatta evolved with an equal number of races for the boys and for the girls.
In 1984 the Canadian Secondary Schools Rowing Association incorporated and later trade marked itself. It chose as both its corporate and official title “Canadian Secondary Schools Rowing Association”. It established a Board of Directors system consisting of 12 directors and a full regime of officers. The Canadian Secondary Schools Rowing Association is an independent Association and a not for profit organization.
The current regatta format consists of 38 weight class and non-weight class events encompassing sculling and sweep categories. Trophies and banners are presented to the points champion of the boys division, the girls division and to the overall school points champion. The Canadian Secondary Schools Rowing Association Championship regatta is open to any recognized high school in the world.”