The years 1876-1971, in Canada, were plagued with turmoil caused by World War I (1914-1918), the Great Depression (1929-1939) and World War II (1939-1945). Needless to say rowing was not at the forefront of most Canadian's minds. Although the Kennebecasis River remained, most of the men, including potential oarsmen, were serving their country overseas, the memories of glory and fun-filled regattas far from their minds.
A single sculler, Wallace Ross, was very successful during his early years but it was not until he was 26 that he drew national acclaim.
In 1872 he won the single scull race in the Saint John Harbour at the age of 17; it was his first race ever but certainly not his last. After a few years, with experience and a greater sense of will behind him, he conquered the rowing scene of New Brunswick and then the nation.
The high point of his career was at Rhode Island, USA. There he placed first in the International race, beating Ned Hanlan of Toronto. Hanlan was described by Sheriff Harding, the main backer of the famous Paris Crew, as the greatest oarsman to ever emerge in the sport.
Ross' sculling career grew to the point of international success until he was soundly defeated by Hanlan on October 15th, 1887 and at the rematch two years later. After that Saint John locals saw him as too risky to back financially.
Hilton Belyea is an inspiration to us all. Not only did he accomplish more than most oarsmen and women do during their career but he overcame an illness that would normally cause someone, especially an athlete, to give up their dreams.
Belyea began rowing on the Kennebecasis in 1919 at the age of 34, after having served alongside his friends and neighbours in the "great fight" of World War I. Unlike many of the young men who risked their lives for our freedom, Belyea returned unharmed to the comparatively calm shores of the Kennebecasis.
His career was very successful and he was rarely defeated, especially in Canada. In an interview conducted in 1960 surmised his outstanding career. It also numbered his collection of memorabilia, 35 cups, 32 medals and numerous gifts and letters he had received from his many national and international successes.
In March of 1924, while training for that year's Olympics in Paris, Belyea was diagnosed with neuritis, a disease that affected his hip. This left him with great pain in his legs. Although the Olympics were only a few months away hope was not completely lost.
The fire for rowing still lived on in the man who believed that the only way to succeed in anything was to "punish yourself into condition." So, when the opening ceremonies arrived, Belyea was there. Although he had to be lowered into the scull using a sling and he suffered excruciating pain, he rowed. The French Authorities presented him with an honorary bronze medal for his great effort.
Canada has yet to see another oarsman of such bravery and skill arise from her soil.