Kennebecasis Rowing Club


by: Dr. J.G. Thompson


The sport of rowing germinated in three centres of the east coast of North America in the early 1800s; these being New York, Boston and Saint John. One of the earliest races was in 1819 - a contest between six oared pilot skiffs over a six mile course from Reid's Point around Partridge Island, Saint John, N.B. and back. Sheriff Harding was an official who witnessed first hand the development of rowing over the nineteenth century. Fortunately from his accounts we have today a fairly good record of events.

The first organized regatta was held in Saint John in 1836. This included races for fouroared pilot gigs, skiffs double, single sculls, sail boats and canoes. The NONPARIETAL, a four-oared racing boat built for the occasion by Charles Lawton, was rowed by an amateur crew of clerks and mechanics and won over gigs and pilot boats. This success gave great impetus to boat building in Saint John.

Sheriff Harding recalled these builders: William Smith of Strait Shore built several fine boats, among them the HARLEQUIN and the VICTORIA. Mr. Riley of Sand Point also built several boats including the WASP, an immense boat to be called a racer which was rowed with great pluck by Indiantown men.

HAZZARD and PERT were built by William Olive of Carleton. All these were good working boats so that no regatta was postponed on account of too rough weather. The usual of the time was from Reid's Point (today located at the foot of Prince William Street where St. James Street intersects it and marked with a tall trilight) out of the harbour, around Partridge Island and back.

The first outrigger Sheriff Harding saw in New Brunswick, was a seventeen foot Madawaska dugout 30 inches wide with wooden outriggers. This boat was rowed in a regatta by one Garvey who won. Charles Lawton then built a twenty foot boat 20 inches wide with wooden outriggers. It was first rowed by Lawton and he won. This led to several sculls built by Lawton and R. Dalton.

The first dual scull resulted from a visit of two Oxford rowers to the area. They were investigating local boats and passed information to local builders as to their specifications for a two man scull. Two sculls were built.

These were taken to Fredericton where a two mile race was held between the Oxford crewmen and two sons of William Brittain of Carleton. The Brittains were off to a good start and soon left the Oxford men well behind winning easily.

The first four-oared raceboat to be rowed out-rigged rowlocks was the gig EXPERIMENT which triumphed in Saint John about 1850 under the oars of the celebrated Carleton crew. By extending the outrigging three inches from the gunwhales they were able to cover a six mile course in slightly less than 32 minutes, whereas the best time earlier crews could do was 41 minutes. The EXPERIMENT was built for Carleton by Maleman.

Sterling, an Irish builder, in Lower Cove, built the UNDAUNTED, WHITE SQUALL and ZIPHIAS which was purchased by Indian-town. Chris Coyle built all lap streak boats including the JAMES A. HARDING. A Scot, McKay, built the first scull Harding ever saw in America, The YOUNG NEPTUNE. Although this was later sold to Boston the clever builders made several skeletons at the same time. These became the THETIS and the RETRIEVER.

In 1838 there was a regatta on the 28th June, the Queen's Coronation Day. In the first race HAZZARD of Carleton won, second was HARLEQUIN, third was TRUE BLUE followed by CORONATION, LAWTON, VENTURE, WRIGHT, WASP, INDIANTOWN and BLUE BONNET. This certainly demonstrates the interest and rivalry of the day!

In 1846 races included the eight-oared gig WASP from Indiantown, six-oared gigs PERT and HAZZARD of Carleton, VENTURE of Sand Point and a four-oared gig the BELLE of Sand Point- In July of that year a regatta was held in the Harbour. The course was six miles from Reid's Point around Partridge Island and back. The PERT of Carleton won over the UNDAUNTED of Portland.

In 1849 the XIPHIAS of Indiantown won a four-oared race in Halifax for a two hundred pound purse. Getting to Halifax in those days was no mean feat. After leaving the steamer at Windsor they carried and carted their boats in slings the rest of the distance. They were brawny men with straps across their shoulders and to their oars, making their backs as well as their arms do the work. Once in Halifax they won the first race, lost the second and won the third. Back in Saint John the XIPHIAS of Indiantown race the ECLIPSE of Sand Cove built by C. Coyle in the following year.

In 1855 a Saint John crew visited Boston, Morris, Welch, Lambert and McAuley rowed in the YOUNG NEPTUNE in a six mile course on the Charles River against a New York crew in the I DR PUTNAM for two hundred pounds a side and won. The next year Welch, Lambert and two Morris brothers rowed the YOUNG NEPTUNE against another New York crew in the JAMES MCKAY for $2000. over the six mile course on the Charles River and won. Also in 1855 the Welch, Morris, Lambert crew rowed a twelve mile course against an American crew on the Charles River and won.


The Brittain crew, composed of William Brittain, William Perkins, Samuel Hutton and Samuel Brittain were successful in several races in 1859 and the next year. The following year they rowed against the crew of Elijah Ross, Robert Cox, Gilbert Cox and Wesley Baker, on our course, from Reid's Point around Partridge Island and back. Something happened to Robert Cox and the Hutton crew won.

In 1862 at Father Dunphy's picnic at Bay Shore three crews raced, the Indiantown crew winning, Elijah Ross's crew placed second, and Robert Fulton's crew third. The next year Sam Hutton and Elijah Ross bought a lapstreak boat, the JAMES A. HARDING from Chris Coyle. She was rowed by the two Brittain brothers, Sam Hutton and Robert McLaren. Elijah Ross did not row in deference to his father's wishes. This crew was defeated by an Indiantown crew.

In 1864 Sam Fulton replaced William Britain aboard the HARDING. At the Masonic picnic at Bay Shore the Indiantown crew won again, the HARDING crew placed second and a Sand Point crew with George Price came third. Three weeks later Elijah Ross replaced Sam Brittain aboard the HARDING. At Father Dunphy's picnic at Bay Shore the HARDING crew won over the Indiantown crew in THETIS. The THETIS and the JAMES A. HARDING met a second time that year on the Kennebecasis over a six mile course. The THETIS crew won by three seconds. The following year the same crew met on the Kennebecasis with doubled stakes and the JAMES A. HARDING crew won.

In 1866 at Father Dunphy's picnic at Bay Shore George Price replaced McLaren aboard the JAMES A. HARDING. This completed the crews of the JAMES A. HARDING which was to reign for the next decade. This crew of Fulton, Ross, Hutton and Price rowed together for the first time and won. They defeated the THETIS of Indiantown, the YOUNG NEPTUNE, a Reid's Point crew, and a Logan crew. Later that fall the HARDING crew defeated the MD AUSTIN in the harbour.

In 1867, after five weeks of training in Southhampton and a fortnight on the Seine, the crew of Robert Fulton, Elijah Ross, Sam Hutton and George Price of the Western Boat Club of Saint John, New Brunswick, entered the amateur races in the International Regatta in Paris, France. Although the Canadians were given little chance to win, in the first race against eight competitors, in a lapstreak boat weighing 170 pounds and rowed on the gunwhales, the wearers of pink from Saint John took the lead and rowed at a great pace, 46-47 strokes/minute, to finish four to five lengths ahead. Forty-five minutes later the same crew entered the JAMES A. HARDING against another field of eight, including Oxford and London Rowing Clubs, French and German crews. A French crew jumped the starting signal and took an early lead and steered in the path of the Canadians. The French had started in their heavy boat and gave up the race at 200 yards. The Canadians managed to avoid the French and by 300 yards drew away from the field. London pressed but the Saint John crew quickened their pace, drew away and won by three lengths.

The Saint John crew returned triumphant. From then on they were referred to as the Paris Crew. Immediately They Were challenged by the Ward Brothers of New York. Since they had left the HARDING behind in France they declined for that year and had a boat built for them by Elliot of Green Point. In October of the next year they traveled to Springfield, Mass. The Saint John men in pink shirts, grey drawers and caps of white and crimson started in an even race with the Wards, but at one mile pulled ahead and left the Wards hopelessly behind. The Wards finished about one minute behind them. Thus, the wearers of pink became the North American champions. They defended their title in the next year at Lachine, Toronto and Niagara.

In 1870 a race at Lachine saw the Paris crew matched against an English crew from the Tyne composed of J. Taylor, T. Winship, J. Martin and James Renforth on a six mile course with turn. The weather was not good - with winds and a rain squall. The JAMES A. HARDING took an early but brief lead, then the Tyne Crew in DUYSTON-IN-TYNE rigged with wash boards went ahead so that by the finish the HARDING was half filled with water. Here, then, the Paris crew suffered their first defeat.

A rematch was organized for the following year. On 23rd August 1871, on a mirror calm surface on the Kennebecasis the Paris crew in the JAMES A. HARDING met the Tyne crew now composed of a J. Percy, R. Chambers, H. Kelly and James Renforth on a six mile course with turn. The Paris crew started well at 42 strokes/minute and took the lead. The Tyne crew started with 39 strokes a minute, then increased but couldn't lesson the distance between the boats. The Tyne's strategy was to lead by the end of the first mile but by the first three quarters of a mile the Paris was ahead by three lengths. Kelly shouted, "Give them a dozen strokes, Jim". At this Renforth gallantly responded but the struggle was useless, his oar rose higher from the surface of the water; until after a heavy spurt, Renforth fell backward in the arms of Kelly. Percy and Chambers rowed rapidly to shore but the ever to be remembered, famous and unfortunate Renforth died shortly after. The Paris crew slackened but instantly proceeded and finished in 30 minutes and 20 and three fifths seconds. The village at the starting line on the Kennebecasis now bears the name of Renforth in his memory.

In 1875 in an International Regatta on the Kennebecasis over a six mile course the Paris crew again won, defeating the Longshore crew of Portland, Maine, the McLaren brothers of Sand Cove and the Young Indiantown crew. In 1876 at the Philadelphia Centennial Regatta the Paris crew rowed their last race. They were soundly defeated in their stationary seats by a Halifax crew with sliding seats.

Thus ended the reign of the wearers of pink from Saint John, the Paris crew. However, part of their history is with us today in one of their four-oared sculls which hangs in the New Brunswick Museum in Saint John.



In the meantime, a New Brunswick native of Memramcook, Wallace Ross started his career in single sculls. In 1873 he defeated Alex Brayley in the Saint John harbour and won the Governor General's silver medal. In 1875 he beat John McLeod in a three mile race in the harbour and later that year he beat Charles Young and Patrick McGuiggan over the same course. Later that year he was defeated by Brayley at Westfield. He met Brayley again in June, 1876, on the Kennebecasis which was the fastest time on record for four miles.

Through the winter of 1876 Ross went to England and had a shell built by Swaddler and Winship. In June, 1877 hemet Fred Plaisted of New York on the Kennebecasis and defeated him over a three mile course. In July he defeated Warren Smith of Halifax for the championship of the Maritime Provinces over a three smile course on the Kennebecasis. In August, Ross issued a challenge to row any man in the Dominion. The challenge was accepted by Ned Hanlan and the two met in Toronto harbour for $1000. a side. Over the five mile course with turn Hanlan easily defeated Ross. The next year Ross again challenged Hanlan and in July they met on the Kennebecasis over a five mile course with turn for $1000. a side. For a mile it was one of the finest races ever witnessed. At the mile Ross led, but shortly after upset and Hanlan won.

In 1879 Ross was "rowed down" by Warren Smith in Bedford Basin. He was also later beaten by James Ridley of Saratoga Springs, New York. However, in an International Regatta in 1880 at Providence, Rhode Island, from a field of ten starters including Ned Hanlan of Toronto, Jas Riley of Saratoga Springs, Fred Plaisted of Boston and Ten Eych of New York, Ross rowed well and finished first for a purse of $3000. Later that year Ross went to England and participated in the "Hop Bitters" race. He won the first two heats, but was placed second in the finals. In December, he rowed Trickett for $1000 a side and won. While still in England he trained Ned Hanlan for his race against Laycock. In 1881 in a regatta in Toronto, Ross defeated Hosmer, Smith, Ten Eych, McKay and Plaisted in the trial heat and then defeated Conely, Courtney, Ten Eych and Hamm in the final to win a $1500. purse. In 1884 Ross defeated Buhear of England but lost to William Black for the world championship. He retired from sculling after this and it is interesting to note that he made a world wide reputation in the exhibition of swordsmanship for several years after.

THE LATE 1800's

ALEX BRAYLEY was another single sculler of Saint John. He was trained and boated by Elijah Ross. He defeated John Landers for the American Championship on the St. Croix River. In 1875 he defeated Wallace Ross at Westfield. He defeated John Landers again on Lake Sebago at Portland, Maine and John B. Brown of Halifax at Halifax.

ELIJAH ROSS. After 1876 and the retirement of the Paris crew Elijah Ross kept the spirit of rowing going by forming a crew of his own with Dick Nagle, George Darnery and Harry Vail. In the late 1870's they beat a Williams crew of Dartmouth, a Logan crew of Strait Shore, Saint John and a Courtenay Bay crew in a three mile course in the harbour. In the early '80s they had a match with Logan's crew on the Kennebecasis for $500. and won. Later they met a crew stroked by Hugh McCormick in Halifax for $500, and won.

It is of interest to note that the Vail family of Gagetown were a family of rowers. In the early 1800's before roads and rail services the steamers on the Saint John River stopped running in the fall. Then Elias Vail and his sons would row to Saint John and row the loaded boat back. They also rowed the mail up the Grand Lake. It was a matter of pride that a sail was never used on any of these trips. Harry Vail began his early rowing career in Gagetown Creek. He eventually left Saint John and went via Boston and New York to become a most successful and well loved rowing coach at Wisconsin University in 1924. However, by the turn of the century rowing in the Saint John area had declined to the point where in 1901 local rowing was described as "scrub" races.

EARLY 1900's

Sculling in this area had its last spurt with the rise of Hilton Belyea of Saint John. After outstanding careers in speed skating and cycling, Hilton won his first race in a fouroared scull in Saint John harbour in 1904. He won his first singles race at Halifax in 1905 against W.J. Coats. He defeated James Ross several times on Lily Lake in 1907 and participated in single and four-oared races until 1911, but it was not until 1919 at a regatta in Shediac that Hilton started his single sculling career by winning there. He was also part of a four oared crew that defeated a St. Mary's crew of Halifax.

In 1920 he defeated Harry Siliphant of Halifax on the Saint John River at Crystal Beach, again at Courtenay Bay at the Commercial Club Rowing Sports Meet. Also that summer, he defeated Jerry Shea, the New England single champion, at the Maritime Rowing Championship on Courtenay Bay. He won races later in Halifax.

In 1921 at the age of 36 Hilton Belyea won the Canadian Henley Championships. In 1922 he placed second to Costello at Philadelphia for the Forragut Cup and third behind Hoover and Costello for the Gold Challenge Cup Race. He returned to St. Catharines and won the Henley Cup for the second time. He won the Association singles at the National Regatta in Philadelphia but placed second to Costello at the National Sculling Championship. He later won the Maritime Championship in single sculls.

In 1923 at the Diamond Scull Races in England, Belyea beat the Swiss single in the first heat, but lost the second. Later at home, he again won the Maritime Championship for single sculls.

In 1924 Belyea trained in England for the Diamond Sculls and the Olympics in France. During this time he developed a severe neuritis and had to be helped from the scull in the Olympics. For his bravery and sportsmanship he was awarded the bronze medal in sculling. In 1926 he won the Maritime Single Seniors at Digby and in 1927 he won the Confederation Jubilee in Saint John. He moved to Albany, New York the next year and competitive rowing in Saint John virtually ceased. His many trophies can be seen in the New Brunswick Museum in Saint John.

LATE 1900's

Last year's (1971) Centennial Regatta sparked a renewed interest in the almost forgotten sport of sculling and rowing. Perhaps the triumphs of former crews will even be surpassed as the future wearers of pink add their chapter to the history of sculling in Saint John. In 1972 the Kennebecasis Rowing Club was formed and has progressed rapidly. In 1977 a four comprised of David Allan, Andrew Messer, Mark Allan and Wayne McConnell won the Canadian 4- Championship and the same Allan brothers won the Royal Canadian Henley pair (2-) and later the Canadian Championship. Rowing is very much alive in Saint John, N.B. in 1979.