HERITAGE LIVES: Watersport Racing, A Canal Tradition

Circa 1912: Canoe race held during the Welland Old Boys Reunion. (Photo/Welland Museum archives)

By Terry Hughes

In a recent message to his constituents, Niagara Centre MP Vance Badawey sent a mailing in the form of a calendar featuring historical scenes from around the riding. One of the pictures shown for the month of February is titled the Canoe Race.

The photograph was taken about 1912 on a Sunday as the canal was closed for the Sabbath. They were celebrating “the Old Boys Reunion” and it looks as though Welland has put out the red carpet judging by the decorated bridge, flags and canal-side tents.

At that time this portion of the waterfront was a popular gathering place in a day when people’s fashions made summertime uncomfortable and canal-side breezes were welcomed.

Terry Hughes

A public dock was located near the swing bridge and just out of the right side of the picture was a bandstand across the street from the town hall. The circular bandstand in Merritt Park was still several years away.   

Several postcards had been printed showing races being held on the canal in Welland so this event was included for this special celebration. It’s interesting that people at that time saw a potential for using the canal for waterborne sports like canoeing and rowing.

Fast forward to a century later when a task force led by Arlene Whyte from the Ministry of Recreation and Culture on developing activities on the recreation waterway, spurred the Welland Recreational Canal Corporation (WRCC) to investigate and develop waterborne sports after 2005. Visitations to a wide variety of venues helped them to develop the Welland International Flatwater Centre (WIFC) course that would receive international acclaim from its users. The accompanying photo shows action in a race held at the present facility.

The south reach of the canal beyond the railway plug was enhanced by the intervention of our MP Gib Parent who gained the permission of the Seaway Authority to utilize this area for rowing. Although the WRCC had hoped to develop this area with better accommodations and an additional lane for returning rowers, Port  Colborne owns the property on the west bank and the Seaway still needs that portion of the canal for some purposes. Investing in this area was considered to be risky. If it were to happen, our rowing course would be better than the Henley Course in St. Catharines.

2015: Action during the World Dragonboat Championship held at the Welland International Flatwater Centre course. (File photo/Joe Barkovich)

Next Column: 1984, The Thrill Of Victory and the Agony of Defeat for Welland. 

(Terry Hughes is a Wellander who is passionate about heritage, history and model railroading. His opinion column, Heritage Lives, appears on the blog once or twice monthly.)

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