HistoryLearn about the history of the Edmonton Rowing Club from the very beginning.
BY ART MONK
During a cold winter night in early 1972, John Bell traipsed around the U of A campus putting notices up on bulletin boards. It was an invitation to anyone interested in starting a rowing club in Edmonton to contact him. John had become hooked on rowing while attending Ridley College in St. Catharines.
Dieter Lueloff, a former member of the West German national team, was living in Edmonton with his wife at the time. His wife saw the notice and passed on John’s phone number. Within a day, he contacted John and the two got together and organized a meeting for anybody interested in starting a rowing club. The five men who attended the meeting would lay the foundation for rowing in Edmonton:
John Bell – the first president of the Club, rowed at Ridley College in St. Catharines
Dieter Lueloff – rowed for the Berliner Ruder Club, member of the West German National Team (National Youth Champion – Quad 1960 & National Junior Champion – Eight 1962)
David MacDonald – member of the Schoolboy Championship four with John at Ridley College
Peter Egermayer – sculler from the Czechoslovakian National Team
Art Monk – past president of the Winnipeg Rowing Club
John made arrangements with the Calgary Rowing Club to borrow a four-oared shell for the season and have the boat temporarily stored at the Mayfair Golf Club, at the foot of Groat Road bridge. It turned out to be an ancient craft in much need of repair. The boat was so old that Art’s father, upon hearing the name on the bow, remembered rowing against it on the Red River in Winnipeg when it was owned by Kenora Rowing Club in the 1930’s. Along with a number of problems with seats, slides, and footboards, it leaked at a joint in the middle. The group spent countless hours refurbishing the boat to a point where it was rowable.
At this time, ground zero for the club was at the home of John’s parents, Dr. Bell and Mary Bell, who were so very kind to accommodate all the comings and goings and providing the use of the infamous VW micro bus for club activities. The Bells provided a haven during those early days and were very supportive of the efforts to get a rowing club established in Edmonton.
As soon as the ice started to break up, the group of five started launching below the south side of Groat Road bridge and rowing up the inside of the curve in the river. This was necessary to avoid the logs, ice, flotsam and jetsam that came down the river and was flung to the outside of the curve just west of the bridge. This was where the Club really began. It was below this bridge that the founding five stood together, shook hands, and committed to winning the Alberta Championships in Calgary in July and entering Canadian Henley in early August. At the time, they did not have any winter training but were full of excitement about rowing for Edmonton. They managed to work out without a coach on the Saskatchewan River until torrential rainstorms hit northern Alberta. Unable to continue their daily workouts on the river because of the huge volume of water and debris, they moved their operations out to Saunders Lake, a long narrow body of water about a mile east of Leduc.
After the move to Saunders Lake, they would meet every day on the U of A campus and John would drive them down to the rowing site in his VW micro bus. The boat was stored in an open field with a tarp over it, behind some barbed-wire fencing to keep the cows from stepping on it. Practices started with a wet launch and then go through a series of drills and workouts, being very careful to avoid obstacles along the margin of this narrow lake. They marked a 500 meter course along the shore in oder to compare times with their future competition. By this time, the crew had settled to Luelofff (stroke), Egermayer, Bell, and Monk (bow) as Dave MacDonald had moved away for a summer job.
In June of 1972, Dieter was in hospital after having his tonsils removed and was unable to attend the first regatta against UBC in Nelson, BC. Dave MacDonald stepped in and the boat had a great race over 2000 metres, losing to the UBC four by only half a canvas and beating Calgary handily. The season continued at the Alberta Championships in Calgary where the four (in the creaky old boat) won the event! Monk and Egermayer were asked if they would like to row in a double in place of a no-show crew. Having never even rowed in a double together the two ERC rowers jumped at the chance and won their second race of the day! This was a testament to all the hard training they had been doing at Saunders … a sweep victory and a sculling victory in the first season.
At the Alberta Championships, the four won the right to represent the province at Canadian Henley. Calgary generously loaned one of their better boats for the team to train in. They brought the four back to Saunders Lake and commenced training in earnest, with plans to go to St. Catherines at the beginning of August. They found themselves on a plane back to Toronto, with a drive down to St. Catherines in the sweltering heat and humidity, where John and David had started their rowing careers.
They entered the straight four and the coxed four and managed to make the finals in the coxed four. It was a fantastic experience and an incredible end of the first competitive season for the Edmonton Rowing Club.
On the back of a successful season, the founding five turned their minds to raising funds. John and Dieter went to the Horst Schmidt, Minister of Culture & Sport. But he was not forthcoming and only gave empty promises. Later along Art and John went through the considerable paperwork and machinations to run the first casino for the Club to raise money. This was an amazing enterprise that raised $30,000 in two days but required that the founders guaranteed a bank loan (at no interest) for $50,000 to just load the casino coffers. Lastly, the City of Edmonton gave them the property where the boathouse still stands today. The hard work and dedication of the founding five molded the Edmonton Rowing Club into what it is today.
Of the five founders, three are known to still be quite active in rowing. Sir John Bell is the Senior Member for the Oxford University Boat Club, responsible for the annual Boat Race between Oxford and Cambridge. Dieter Lueloff is an active masters rower with the Don Rowing Club in Mississauga. Art Monk is past president of the Los Gatos Rowing Club in the San Francico Bay Area and an active masters sculler. Both Dieter and Art have made appearances at the Canadian Henley Regatta in past years and John continues to row a single on the Thames.
1974, A BEGINNING (BY DEXA STOUTJESDYK)
By the spring of 1974, several more rowers had discovered the new club. Tim Taylor, originally from Ontario, was a classmate of John Bell’s at Ridley College and like Bell, rowed on the school team. Don Morson was an Australian who had rowed for two years at Drummoyne Rowing Club in Sydney, Australia before coming to Edmonton. A good friend of Morson was Edmontonian Dennis Hill. Though Hill had never actually rowed himself, he was actively involved on the administrative end. Frank Durante started his rowing career in 1970 at Trent University where in 1971 he was a member of the winning eight at the Ontario University Championships. He went on, in 1972, to row a year for the Toronto Argonauts and then spent the summer of 1973 rowing at Peterborough.
Originally from north-western Ontario, Durante came to Edmonton in January of 1974 looking for work. When he arrived he looked around for a rowing club but came up empty. A few months later, in April, Durante was in a downtown Edmonton bar where he met Don Morson who upon discovering Durante was one of the “old boys” immediately extended an invitation to him to join the new club. As Durante said: “It was fate.”
While searching for a permanent site for a boathouse, the club rowed on the river and stored their equipment on the front lawn of a river side house owned by a supportive couple named the Yorath’s. Later that summer the club acquired a site from the City of Edmonton near Laurier Park and the Valley Zoo, not far from the Yorath’s property. An old house, owned by the City, was located on the site. The attached garage was modified and used for storing the boats during that summer.
The club, by this time, had borrowed another four and an eight from the Calgary Rowing Club. The ancient four that had been borrowed in 1972 from the Calgary Rowing Club was retired from service after sinking in the river in the spring of 1974. The shoals that the four ran into upstream of the Groat Bridge were the same ones that a Brentwood crew was to destroy their boat on a few years later, now known as the “Brentwood Shoals.” (Since then Brentwood has refused any subsequent invitations to row in Edmonton.)
Earlier that spring some of the founding members had begun recruiting new members from the local high schools. Some of the first recruited members included Keith Jorgensen, John Faltinson, Tom Cavanagh, and Chris Alan. It was through Chris Alan’s father that a bulldozer was obtained from the Poole Construction company and used to make the club’s new site more accessible to the river. Money for property taxes was to be obtained from the membership fees.
The first ERC Executive committee was established that summer with John Bell as president, Don Morson as vice-president, and Dennis Hill as secretary-treasurer. The club colors the first two years were blue with an orange stripe (the orange was Ridley Colleges’ color) before it was changed to green and gold. Establishment of the club was slowly taking shape and on the 20th of November in 1974, the club was incorporated under The Societies Act of The Province of Alberta.
1975 – 1976
The year 1975 saw the club’s first boat purchases. Two Pocock shells, a straight/coxed four and a pair/double, were ordered and acquired from the famous Seattle boatmaker, George Pocock. The boats were christened the “ERC 1” and the “John Bell” respectively.
Unfortunately vandalism on the club site that spring resulted in damage to the modified garage and one of the boats stored there. This prompted the construction of a more appropriate boathouse which was undertaken in the fall.
In the summer of 1975 the E.R.C. sent a crew, coached by Tim Taylor, to the Royal Canadian Henley Regatta, St. Catherines, Ontario. A lightweight men’s straight four, consisting of Dave MacDonald, Tom Cavanagh, John Faltison and Keith Jorgenson, represented Edmonton. Placing third in the finals, they finished as the top Canadian boat.
By this time the ERC was affiliated with the Alberta Rowing Association (ARA) much to the displeasure of the Calgary Rowing Club. It appears Calgary was reluctant to share money received from Provincial and Federal grants that previously had gone only to them. The Edmonton crew that went to Henley had also been sanctioned by ARA to go to the Nationals that year, but Edmonton never received any of the money that was sent by the Canadian Amateur Rowing Association (CARA) Apparently CARA had made a mistake by making the check out to the Calgary Rowing Club instead of the ARA to distribute. The Calgary Rowing Club kept the whole amount. The ERC was on the verge of taking the CRC to court over this mix-up but another solution was arrived at. The ARA sponsored a Casino and it was settled that Edmonton would get the first amount that totaled what the complaint was about and the rest would be split. Needless to say this incident along with Calgary’s less than desirable attitude towards their “rival” club was a source of a lot of hostilities in the first few years.
1975 also saw the arrival of Ken Sandham on the Edmonton rowing scene. Ken Sandham grew up in St. Catherines, Ontario where, “When you’re in high school you either play lacrosse or row.” Ken chose rowing. He spent two years on the Lakeport High School rowing team and two years on the St. Catherines competitive rowing team. While a member of the St. Catherines rowing club, Sandham rowed in the 145 lbs weight category in an eight and a coxed four. Sandham’s eight placed first, and his four came second, as junior’s at the 1973 Royal Canadian Henley Regatta. This feat was to be repeated in 1974 in the senior category. In 1975 Sandham came to Edmonton to work. By mid-June of that year Sandham had met a co-worker named Frank Durante, and was introduced to the Edmonton Rowing Club and, “Rowing in the outback!”
Sandham quickly became heavily involved with the club on many levels: rowing, coaching, administrative tasks, etc.. At the close of the 1975 rowing season, John Bell, preparing to leave for Oxford, England on a scholarship he had received, essentially turned over the handling of the club to Sandham. Don Morson, being vice-president, took over as president with Bell’s departure.
Women started rowing on a recreational basis in 1975 and by the 1976 rowing season, Edmonton had its first competitive women’s crew. A heavyweight four made up of two sets of sisters Sue and Gail Tomchuk, Chris and Terri Morren, and their coxswain Mary Morban. These women rowed together for two years. Competing the first year at the local level, the second year they became Edmonton’s first women’s crew to go to the Nationals and Henley. An additional purchase of a lightweight coxed four and a pair/double were made in the spring of 1976. The money for the boats came largely from city grants and the soliciting efforts of Peter MacDonnell, a lawyer and ex-Toronto rower with influential connections. Named after their benefactors the four was christened “The City of Edmonton” and the pair/double was christened “The PLP.”
Attempts were made at hosting regattas in Edmonton. In both 1975 and 1976 Edmonton hosted the “Head of the River” regatta during Klondike Days. Though the Klondike races were quite successful, difficulty in water conditions and lack of facilities contributed to a less than ideal regatta situation. Preferences for other regatta sites throughout the prairies pre-empted the establishment of any permanent major regattas to be held in Edmonton at this stage.
With women beginning to show an interest in rowing, and news of the club spreading, membership took a major increase in 1977. About thirty to forty active members were now registered with the club. This was quite an achievement since it required overcoming people’s attitude towards the river. Edmontonians had been traditionally brought up to fear and stay away from the river. Viewing it as a source of sport and recreation was quite a new perspective for them.
In 1977 Edmonton participated in the Prairie Championships, held in Regina, for the first time. Edmonton dominated the regatta, winning all but one of the sweep oar events, as well as capturing second and third place finishes in some events. Edmonton beat out Regina, Winnipeg, Ottawa, Kenora, Calgary and Saskatoon to win the overall team championship that year, certainly a highlight in the club’s history! Largely due to the concentrated efforts of Edmonton’s Ken Sandham and Regina’s Bob Ellard, the “Prairie Circuit” consisting of the Regina Sprints, Alberta Championships and the Prairie Championships, was firmly established by this time.
The objectives of the ERC were to promote Olympic style rowing and sculling in the Edmonton area through a competitive and recreational program and by assisting in the initiation of clubs in neighbouring communities. In 1978, the club initiated its rowing schools for youths through the Continuing Education Department of the Edmonton School Board. As a result of the school youth oriented program a crew of five girls from Louis St. Laurent High School went East to place third out of twenty-two crews in the Canadian high school rowing championships at St. Catherines, Ontario. Members of the crew were Mia Macki, Kathy Kossman, Marguerite Morin, Nancy Trigg, and coxswain Louise Morin. They were coached by Ken Sandham who after two and one half years as club captain was now head coach of the ERC.
Interest in rowing increased significantly due to the exposure of this women’s crew’s exploits. The increase in membership was mainly female resulting in the women making up the nucleus of the club, a trend which was to continue for many years.
BY DEXA STOUTJESDYK
1979 – 1980
The Edmonton Rowing Club was in full swing by this time. Increase in membership numbers continued. A club newsletter, “Stroke Update”, was regularly being sent out to keep club members informed about rowing related activities. The club was involved in organizing and participating in coaching and officiating clinics throughout the Province. The ERC participated in the 1979 Edmonton Sportsman Show to increase exposure and awareness of the sport to the general public. Annual awards banquets were held every spring where the top Edmonton oarspeople of the year were honoured. (See appendix for a list of the winners of the Coaches’ Trophy from 1974 to 1984.) Crews were regularly being sent east to compete at “Nationals” and “Henley.” Though often making the finals, gold medals at these more prestigious regattas were still eluding Edmonton rowers.
In anticipation of accommodating the two new Pocock eights that had been ordered, construction to extend the boathouse to twice its original length was initiated during the fall of 1979 reaching completion in January of 1980.
Even though the club seemed to be growing at a healthy, and steady rate, financially the situation was not so rosy. In order to expand, the club had to buy new equipment. Fully rigged fours went for approximately $6,000, while an eight went for the tidy sum of $10,000. In addition, the club paid all their athletes’ expenses when competing in regattas (i.e. entry fees, travelling expenses, food, and accommodation.) The rowers rarely paid anything above the membership fee which, for most, was between twenty and thirty dollars per year. The club received grants and some donations but not nearly enough to cover these kind of expenditures.
The financial situation really became strained when the club, prematurely relying on a prospective $10,000 City grant, ordered the two new eights mentioned previously. The city grant came through, but for only half the original amount, $5000. The club, already committed to buying the boats, turned to the banks for financing. Due perhaps to lack of experience and/or lack of strong administrative talent, the club kept using their line of credit without much thought as to where the money was coming from, all the time adding to their already substantial debt.
Ken Sandham was elected President for the 1980 – 1981 term. A man named Jim Jones became his Vice-President. Jim Jones, like Sandham also grew up in “St. Kitts”, (St. Catherines, Ontario) “…Port Dalouisie if you want to be patriotic…” Being a relatively small community, Jones and Sandham were aware of each other through friends and relatives who socialized in the same circles. Jones started rowing in 1964 at Lakeport High School, Port Dalouisie. “All my friends and brother were rowing so it was natural to take it up…” He rowed four years in high school, winning “schoolboy races” in the 155 lbs eights, and four years with the St. Catherines Rowing Club. In 1971 Jones came west to take courses at NAIT. He made no effort to look for a rowing club because he did not think any existed and he had basically retired from rowing at that point. Jones was now more involved with the other “National” sport of St. Catherines, Lacrosse. A few years later Jones learned through his parents, who were acquainted with Ken’s parents, that Ken was involved in a rowing club here. So one July day in 1979 Jones wandered down to the club to check it out. He began to row periodically on a recreational basis. After staying in the background for the first year or so Jones slowly got more and more drawn into the club’s affairs, becoming Vice-President in the fall of 1980.
1981 – 1982
In the fall of 1981 Jim Jones was elected President of the ERC executive, he inherited close to a $30,000 debt. The club had an account with the Treasury Branch who were threatening to foreclose . . . the financial situation was hard pressed. In the latter part of that fall pressure from the Bank increased. The club was forced to cancel the Spring boat order for a new four. Cancellation of the four caused some animosity within the club but priorities had to be set and attitudes changed. Jones was quite dismayed at the self centered aspect of the club and set out to get more involvement and commitment from the club members. The Vice-President of this executive, Claude LeMay, arranged for a Casino to be held at Capilano Hotel. The club made $13,000 which, along with the boat order cancellation, was enough to buy more time from the Bank. Jones started looking into bingos as a possible source of income for the club. The club ultimately joined the Parkway Village Bingo Association in 1982 and by the 1983 rowing season the debt had been cleared.
The club was finally getting organized and properly documented but not without some cost. During his two years as ERC President Jones experienced many frustrations in getting the club turned around financially, much of which stemmed from within the club itself. Jones apparently even offered his resignation a couple of times but the club refused to accept it. However, the frustrations continued and toward the end of his second year as President, Jones, feeling that, “. . . new blood was required . . .” did resign and handed the club over to his Vice-President, Blaine Schamber.
The ERC experienced another significant increase in membership during this period mainly due to the formal organization of the University of Alberta Rowing Club (UARC) by Jerry Leonard in 1982. Leonard was an “old boy” from Australia who became another one of Ken Sandham’s recruits upon meeting Sandham at a regatta in Saskatoon. Acting as a sister club, the UARC was also a good feeder system for the ERC.
At the 1982 Royal Canadian Henley regatta, Edmonton produced a somewhat unexpected strong performance with a men’s 135 lbs pair rowed by Jan Pierzchajlo and Tim Smith. Pierzchajlo’s and Smith’s second place finish was the best showing Edmonton had produced to date. With the continued progress in the Club’s growth thoughts were turned towards a more permanent boathouse and better facilities. This idea was initiated towards the end of 1982 by Jan Tereczshenko, an unemployed architect who had rowed competitively in Poland. The club was still not in a position, financial or otherwise, to take the idea any further at this time but the seed had been planted.
1983 – 1984
As the ERC became financially stable the clubs competitive program was also to experience major improvements. Some of these improvements can be attributed to the arrival of Sandy Kirby as Edmonton’s women coach in the fall of 1982. Kirby started rowing at Victoria City Rowing Club, in 1975, at the age of 25. One year later she was in the Montreal Olympics as stroke of the Canadian women’s quad: “I was the smallest female rower there . . ., of all the nations.” Continuing to scull, for Laval Rowing Club from 1977 to 1980 and then back to Victoria City Rowing Club until 1981, Kirby went undefeated as a lightweight single sculler from 1979 until she retired in 1981. (Women’s lightweight category, 130 lbs max, was first introduced in 1979.) Holder of five Royal Canadian Henley trophies, eleven Canadian National medals and three 1981 American Championship titles, Sandy Kirby had a lot to offer the club. Kirby had met Ken Sandham in St. Catherines at the 1982 “Henley” regatta. When Sandham learned that Kirby was taking up residence in Edmonton to start her Ph.D. in Physical Education at the University of Alberta he quickly solicited her help as a coach. With Kirby taking over the training and coaching of the women, Sandham had more time to concentrate on the men.
Late spring in 1983, the ERC was to get another women’s coach, Randi Stangroom. Originally from the birthplace of Canadian rowing, the Maritimes, Stangroom took up rowing with a Fredericton rowing club in 1976 after retiring from a fourteen year swimming career. After rowing for a couple of years Stangroom directed her energies towards coaching. She came to Edmonton in 1979 for work and in 1980 joined the E.R.C.. Stangroom had heard about the club through one of Edmonton’s top oarsmen, Howie Campbell, whom she had met at the Henley regatta in St. Catherines in 1979.
After the 1980 rowing season Stangroom withdrew from the club for a couple of years and reappeared on the scene in late spring of 1983. Teaming up with Kirby, Stangroom took over the women sweep oar crews while Kirby coached the women sculling crews. The fruits of their labors were evident when the selection of the women’s Alberta team, for the 1983 Western Canada Summer Games, was finalized. The whole women’s Alberta team was made up of Edmonton rowers! On the men’s side exciting things were also happening. Sandham continued to concentrate on the Pierzchajlo – Smith 135 lbs pair. There were hopes that this men’s pair would repeat their strong showing of the year before. It was with some surprise and much elation when Pierzchajlo and Smith came back from the 1983 Royal Canadian Henley Regatta, St. Catherines with Edmonton’s first Henley gold medal! (figure above) A year later at the 1984 Canadian National Rowing Championships, Montreal, the ERC club’s women experienced their own moment of glory. Coached by Howie Campbell and Randi Stangroom, a lightweight coxed four made up of Karyn Dacyshyn, Dexa Stoutjesdyk, Nancy Trigg, Cathy Turnbull, and their coxswain Gail O’Brien won Edmonton’s first Canadian National Rowing gold medal. A gold was also captured by a men’s 135 lbs crew rowing in the 145 lbs category. This straight four consisted of Jan Pierzchajlo, Roberto Rouget, Bill Reynolds, and Tim Smith. The women’s lightweight four went on to place second as juniors at the Henley Regatta that year, finishing as the top Canadian boat.
The coaching of Howie Campbell played a significant part in these achievements. Campbell was the first rower produced by Edmonton to be sent to national selection camps and be involved with rowing at the national level. When the E.R.C. hired him for special projects in 1984 the expertise on training and technique that he brought with him proved to be an invaluable asset to the club. These medals seemed to be a turning point for the club’s competitive program. Winning medals at the national and international level no longer seemed to be a wishful dream. The athletes began to realize that it was a very real possibility. The club gained confidence and direction. No longer was it a crew’s goal to make the finals in the more prestigious regattas, they set their sights on winning!
1984 was also a turning point in the purchasing of boats and equipment. Straying from the Pocock models for the first time the ERC invested in a Hudson double/pair, a Kaschper double/pair, and a Kaschper coxed four. These boats were lighter, sleeker, and ultimately faster, truly elite rowing shells. The 1984 purchase of an ATCO trailer served as the team’s first clubhouse. Rudimentary as it was the trailer was a welcome addition. After nearly a decade of braving the elements and Edmonton’s infamous mosquitoes the athletes finally had some shelter.
Coaching at the rowing club continued to change. Ken Sandham remained as overall Head coach while Randi Stangroom took over as Head Coach of the women. Howie Campbell moved to Victoria to live and is presently involved with coaching at the University of Victoria Rowing Club. Sandy Kirby remains as a technical advisor to the club but has limited her coaching involvement due to other commitments. Charles Richmond, under the guidance of Sandham, coached the heavyweight men. Lauren Brown coached the women’s youth team (age 19 years and younger). Six of her girls were picked for the Alberta team that was sent to the Canadian Youth Games in New Brunswick. This was the first time that Edmonton participated in these Youth Games.
Arrival of a new Kaschper eight and a Kaschper straight four had been anxiously awaited. However disaster struck when, during the course of having the boats transported out from the East, the boat trailer flipped. All the boats were destroyed. The boats were insured but the loss was deeply felt throughout the club. Though disappointed about not having the higher quality racing shells the club went on to experience their most successful season yet. Both the women’s and men’s lightweight eights dominated the Prairie Circuit winning every race in their event. At the Nationals the women’s lightweight eight won a gold medal as did the men’s 135 lbs lightweight four. At Henley many of the Edmonton crews not only made finals but placed in the top three.
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