Learn about rowing in Canada and identify the type of rowing that is best for you.
Rowing in Canada started at the beginning of the 19th century on the east coast and spread to the west coast during the next hundred years. The first race was reported in 1811 and took place in Halifax Harbour. The first annual regatta was established perhaps as early as 1814, but definitely by 1826, and continues to this day on Quidi Vidi Lake in St. John’s, Newfoundland. Annual regattas in central Canada started in the 1840s in Toronto Harbour though occasional regattas took place in the settlements along the St. Lawrence River.
While the early forms of rowing were based on a fixed seat, the sliding seat was introduced in Canada around the middle of the century. Mainland Canada adopted this invention, while Newfoundland to this day continues with the traditional style of rowing.
Canadian oarsmen from the maritime provinces were the first to establish a reputation for excellence. In Halifax, scullers such as George Brown and Jack Lovett became renowned for their ability to win over well-known American scullers. In 1867, a Saint John, New Brunswick crew went to Paris, France for the World exhibition and won both fours events beating American and British crews. From then until 1903, Canadian professional oarsmen won major regattas including World Championships. Ned Hanlan in 1880 and Jake Gaudaur in 1896 both won the World Title for singles scullers. Canada’s scullers reigned supreme for two decades.
Starting in 1977, Canadian women’s crews initiated a series of medal wins unparalleled in the western world. In so doing they managed to lead the western countries in the race for medals against the former communist regime countries. In 1984, Canada’s men’s eights finally won the Olympic gold in the eights when it beat the American eight by a scant deck. Further World Championships in lightweight and heavyweight crews were won on an almost annual basis thereafter.
In the 1992 Olympic Games, the women, including Marnie McBean and Kathleen Heddle, won three gold medals and a bronze. These two women continued to win medals on the world scene during the rest of the decade to become Canada’s most successful Olympic athletes. Teammate Silken Laumann, a world champion in the single sculls the year before, galvanized the country when she won a bronze medal despite a serious accident a scant ten weeks before the 1992 Olympic Games. A reported three million Canadians watched her final in the single sculls, televised live at three a.m. The men won the eights gold medal.
Canada also had a stellar 1996 and 2008 Olympics, and the sport continues to be one of Canada’s top ranked summer Olympic sports.
In 2008, adaptive rowing (now called Para-rowing) was added to the Paralympic Games, and Canada sent a competitive team to Beijing to compete in this historic regatta.
Canadians enjoy multiple forms of rowing: flatwater, indoor and coastal rowing. Our clubs offer many different programs for able-bodied and para rowers and individuals are typically in programs that are designed based on age and development stage.
Many individuals start rowing because it is low-impact, is a non-contact sport, and offers excellent calorie-burning and cardiovascular benefits. As a late-entry sport, rowing provides a rare opportunity for adolescents and adults to enter a new sport along with other individuals who are also trying it for the first time.
If you are new to rowing, visit the Find A Club section to locate the club nearest to you that is offering a Learn to Row Program.
Visit our Row for Canada section to learn more about elite rowing for able-bodied and para rowers in Canada. World Rowing provides an overview of all types of rowing, including information about Masters and Juniors.
Coastal and Touring
Coastal rowing is a form of rowing that takes place on rough water – on the sea and lakes and rivers where the water is not flat. This discipline of rowing has one of the fastest growing communities of rowers and is popular in many countries, particularly in Europe. Touring is an activity that enables participants to explore scenic waterways, lakes and rivers in rowing shells.
Coastal rowing currently has a limited presence in Canada particularly when compared to flat-water rowing. Renewed interest in growing this discipline in Canada has been prompted by the recent hosting of the 2018 World Rowing Coastal Championships in Victoria, BC (October 2018) and the inclusion of the rowing discipline at the 2026 Victoria Commonwealth Games. RCA has identified the development of coastal rowing as a method of diversifying our sport to ensure we welcome more participants. Stay tuned to learn more about our upcoming strategy to grow this discipline of rowing in Canada.
More information about coastal rowing can be found here.
Indoor rowing is offered at local rowing clubs, community centres and indoor rowing studios across Canada. Individuals use the rowing machine all year and Canada is host to over 10 Indoor Rowing events that typically take place in the winter months. Check out our Events page to find an indoor rowing event near you.
More information about Indoor Rowing can be found here.
The Canadian University Rowing Association (CURA) oversees university rowing in Canada, with more than 25 schools competing. The purpose of the association is to promote the sport of rowing and act as the governing body for rowing programs at universities and colleges throughout Canada. CURA also organizes the annual championship regatta, the Canadian University Rowing Championship.
Find a rowing program at a CURC- participating University:
More information about University Rowing can be found here.
Para rowing is rowing for individuals with an impairment using modified or adapted equipment and methods to meet each individual’s needs.
RCA offers opportunities for athletes with physical and visual impairments to train and compete. Para athletes can compete in three rowing classifications depending on their specific impairment.
Para rowing programs are offered at clubs across the country. If you are new to rowing, visit the Find A Club section to locate the club nearest to you.
Want to get started on a high performance pathway? Connect with the Para rowing contact at your Provincial Rowing Association:
|Rowing BC||Row Ontario|
|Alberta Rowing Association||Association Québécoise d’Aviron|
|Saskatchewan Rowing Association||Rowing Newfoundland|
|Manitoba Rowing Association||Row Nova Scotia|
Domestic classification is offered at Speed Orders (NextGen National Team Trials) and the National Rowing Championships, and athletes should begin the classification process prior to racing. More information on the domestic classification process can be found here.
Impairment types that can be classified for Para rowing include: impaired muscle power, impaired range of movement, limb deficiency, hypertonia, athetosis, ataxia, and vision impairment.
FISA has an online Classification Eligibility Guide to help individuals assess their eligibility as a Para rower. Please note that this tool has no bearing on the classification process.
Para rowing (formerly called adaptive rowing) was first raced internationally at the 2002 World Rowing Championships. In 2008, Para rowing was added to the Paralympic Games, and Canada sent a competitive team to Beijing to compete in this historic regatta.
Canada’s first Paralympic rowing medal was a bronze in the PR3 mixed coxed four at the 2016 Paralympics in Rio.
More information on Para rowing can be found here.