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.