Manitoba History: Rowing Memories

by Conrad S. Riley

Number 21, Spring 1991

This article was published originally in Manitoba History by the Manitoba Historical Society on the above date. We make this online version available as a free, public service. As an historical document, the article may contain language and views that are no longer in common use and may be culturally sensitive in nature.

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The following article is an excerpt from the book Rowing Memories by Conrad S. Riley published in 1934.

I have no knowledge of the first [Winnipeg Rowing] Club House which was a floating one, moored, I believe, to the Main Street Bridge where it crossed the Assiniboine River. This Club House was demolished by the ice in the Spring of [18]84. A site was then secured on the south bank at the junction of the Red and Assiniboine Rivers, the property of Donald A. Smith, later Lord Strathcona. A very pretentious Club House for the time was erected on this site and was in use at the first Regatta of the Minnesota and Winnipeg Rowing Association in 1886. It was financed by subscriptions and the sale of term debentures. I do not think that any of these debentures were redeemed in cash but they were accepted in payment of membership dues, and many were redeemed in this way. The boat storage was on the ground floor and on the upper floor, a shower room and locker room was located in the rear, and a recreation room and verandah in the front. The water supply was from a windmill which pumped into a tank, and the drainage, of course, was to the river. This Club House served its purpose very well, and was approached from Main Street over an open common. The advent of the Northern Pacific Railway into Manitoba about 1889 partially cut the Club House off by the railway embankment and bridge coming into the old Northern Pacific station on Water Street. Later the Norwood Bridge was built, which interfered to some extent with the course; and about 1907, when the Canadian Northern developed the present Union Station property, they approached the Club with a view of our giving up this site. After a good deal of consideration we first secured an option on two lots in Norwood, next to the old Norwood Bridge, but later were able to arrange through the late Fred W. Heubach for the site now [i.e. 1934] occupied, which was donated, subject to certain building restrictions.

Clubhouse of the Winnipeg Rowing Club, circa 1910.
Source: Archives of Manitoba

The Winnipeg Rowing Club Building Company was then incorporated with a capital of $25,000.00; and with the disposal of our rights on the old site, and the sale of stock in the new company, a building was erected on this site in 1908. Mr. [G. F.] Galt was our President; and I took on the responsibilities of Secretary-treasurer and handled the finances, and with the assistance of various members who were interested in the project, sold most of the stock. I should like to pay tribute to the late D. Boyce Sprague, who perhaps more than any other, was most helpful in this work. The plans for the Club House were prepared by W.W. Blair, Architect, and provided a commodious basement for our boats, with large dressing and locker rooms, showers, etc., together with recreation room and verandahs. Our new Club House, however, was not situated as conveniently as the old one, in that the late afternoon sun made the use of the verandahs impracticable.

We were just able to keep ahead of our creditors in the payment for the construction of the building, and it was necessary to find new subscribers to our stock up to 1915 to take care of our obligations. This we were able to do, and the Winnipeg Rowing Club Building Company has never been in debt.

In 1915 a fire started about noon in the skipper’s quarters and ran through the building. It did not, however, seem to get a good hold and the fire department with volunteers put it out without serious damage. We collected some $1,700.00 damages and took the occasion to enlarge the verandah, which was paid for by the insurance money and the sale of some additional stock. In 1921 a very heavy wind took the whole roof off our building and carried it across the road. This occurred in the night when some of the boys, who were training, were asleep, but no one was hurt and no serious damage done and the roof was put back again.

In May 1923 while our Spring Regatta was in progress something happened to the gasoline stove which was in use, and the building took fire. This occurred while a race was in progress and I was on the roof, which commanded a full view of the race, performing my duties as referee. One of the boys rushed up to the roof to tell me the building was on fire and the flames spread so quickly that I just had time to rush down through the locker room, grab my rowing clothes and jump out of a window. The fire started on the second floor, and in the meantime the boys were removing the boats from the lower part, but unfortunately a number of the boats which were taken out first, and only placed a short distance from the building, were burned on the ground. We did save most of our boats, however, as quite a number of them were out on the river at the time. We lost our Henley Four, and I personally lost a pair-oared and a single, which Culver [Riley] had taken out of the Club House but which burnt on the ground. I managed to save my other boat. The Club suffered a serious loss by this fire, but we were able to carry on without interruption. We stored our boats temporarily in the old Arctic Ice house nearby, put up a marquee for temporary use and immediately had men at work clearing away the debris. A roof was constructed over the stone wall at the first floor; and we very shortly had a suitable storage place for our boats, showers, locker room accommodation, and a work shop. In 1925 we added an upstairs portion and in 1926 completed this to cover the whole of the front part. We now had all the essentials for a Club House, and, from the operating point of view, one which we could maintain financially. The insurance collected from the fire enabled us to replace a good deal of the equipment that was lost.

Fire at the Winnipeg Rowing Club, May 1923.
Source: Archives of Manitoba

The Club House rebuilt by the WRC in the 1920s lasted until 1990 when it was demolished. A new site was secured by the Club further down river, near the base of the Norwood Bridge, and a new building was erected there in 1990.

Page revised: 11 April 2010