Reflections: The Famous Race that gave Renforth its name

Today a crew from the Kennebecasis Rowing Club leaves for Newcastle-upon-Tyne to participate in that city's 900th Anniversary.

The Greater Saint John area and Newcastle have had close ties dating back to 1871.

The present village of Renforth in the year 1871 was made up of a few summer homes, it was called Riverview then. People lived in Saint John and traveled to the area via the train or horse drawn vehicles.

A four man crew from Tyne, England had traveled to Saint John to compete against the Paris crew of Saint John. It was a six-mile race measured for accuracy on the ice during the winter before. The course extended from Torryburn Cove up the river in a straight line to a point off Salmon creek, not far from the Village of Renforth. A boat marked the turning point.

"Form 'The Evening Times and Star', August 17th,1871: As early as three o'clock on Wednesday morning there was life and bustle in the streets of Saint John that indicated the coming event -- a six mile race between Saint John and Tyne crews. Many had been up all night, making music on the streets, and others had arisen from bed to be among the first to reach the scene of action. At four o'clock a crowd had collected at the depot and the train left with a load of passengers.

"At five o'clock, the darkness had given way to the cold gray mist, and the train was literally packed, the people going over the sides of the cars in their haste. The road between the city and Riverside was dotted with teams, the drivers urging their steeds forward as if fearing to be late at the scene. Old men, boys, women, little children were all there. There was every kind of vehicle from a sloven to a barouche.

"This scene at the Kennebecasis was a remarkable one. The railway from Torryburn Cove to a point a mile and a half distant, was covered with a mass of humanity. Along the beach a thin line straggled, the pickets were seen on hillsides. Trees were made available as out-looks, many a carefree boy or ambitious man being perched up among the branches.

"Small parties sat around lunch baskets and ate their breakfasts as though the air of the morning and their ride had given them keen appetites. Old women dealt out apples and gingerbread from stands along the railroad fences. Carriages came rattling in, trains arrived with thousands, the regiments on the rail embankments, and these became whole crops d'armee on the entire river front. The grandstand and other erections were gay with bright colours of ladies raiment.

"Little boys ventured out on the river on rafts constructed with much haste and little engineering skill. Row boats plied on the river to and fro. The fleet of woodboats at anchor kept up their sails, and yachts glided gracefully back and forth. The steamer "Fawn" had arrived from Fredericton at an early hour, and was anchored in the stream. The boats, steamers and woodboats constantly arrived and took up positions in the line, their decks covered with people. A long line of small boats was fastened to a boom stretched away from the judges' boat. Bands on board the steamers played constantly."

The outcome of the race is a sad one. The Tyne crew, with James Renforth as stroke, had gone only a half a mile when Renforth collapsed. He was taken ashore and died there soon afterwards. The Saint John crew not knowing of the tragedy finished the course in 39 minutes, 20 and 3/5 seconds.

In 1903 the name of the area, then called Chalet, was changed to Renforth to honour the oarsman.

The people of Newcastle still appreciate the acknowledgement of one of their own. In a letter sent to the mayor of the City of Saint John from the Lord Mayor of Newcastle extending an invitation for the Kennebecasis Rowing Club to take part in the International Regatta, he writes:

"I may say that the action of the City of Renforth in New Brunswick in adapting the name of one of our famous citizens, James Renforth, was not only highly appreciated in the boating world but has never failed to touch the hearts of citizens generally.

"The centenary silver rose bowl presented to the City by the City of Renforth occupies a place in the Lord Mayor's room at the Civic Center."

(Thanks go to Dr. C.H. Bonnycastle, President of the Kennebecasis Rowing Club Inc. for his cooperation in writing the article and for lending a copy of "History of Renforth" written by Connie and Bert McCollom.)