Before there was a City of Nelson, there was a local rowing club.
“We’ve waxed and waned over the years,” rowing enthusiast Kurt Edmonds told the Star, during a sunny afternoon in Lakeside Park. “But it’s been 120 years since we started up here.”
They’ve come a long way from their humble beginnings: a floating boathouse built on the lakeshore near the foot of Josephine St. According to a history on the club’s website, Nelson scullers completed in North Pacific Association of Amateur Oarsmen regattas and other events until a storm in 1939 damaged the original boathouse beyond repair.
Hank Barone revived the club 30 years later and another floating boathouse was built. Nelson’s Lorne Loomer won Olympic gold with the UBC men’s fours in 1956 in Melbourne and was inducted into the Canadian Sports Hall of Fame. In 1971, Nelson hosted the Pan-Am Trials for the Canadian team selection.
However, membership declined until 1987, when former French national team member Dominique Preney and rower Kim Shea helped rejuvenate the club. Despite losing the second boathouse to an ice storm, the club prospered. In 2002, L.V. Rogers Secondary’s shop class built a large boathouse on land.
This year the club, which has 22 members, is looking to expand both its adult and youth programming. Once completing the Nelson and District Community Complex’s Learn to Row program, members are free to use the club’s boats, as long as they have a partner and good visibility.
“We’re doing maintenance on our boats, going through the inventory to see what needs repairs, and prioritizing so we can get ready for this new season,” club president Steven Knight said.
The benefits to the community are huge, particularly for younger participants, Edmonds said.
“The beauty of this club is it provides youth an alternative to the compendium of sports already available. Rowing is recognized in a lot of universities so many of our kids who go through this program continue when they go to school on the coast.”
Some have even received full ride scholarships.
The club is looking forward to their annual regatta on Aug. 6, which will attract visitors from across the province and the US and will conclude with a barbecue.
“We get a lot of attention for that regatta and a lot of people come just to get that Nelson experience,” Edmonds said. “We can’t wait.”