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.