SPORT

Four Men in a Boat

Prairie-bred, they trained through the Great Drought on a homemade lake to win a Dominion rowing championship

DAVE DRYBURGH October 1 1938
SPORT

Four Men in a Boat

Prairie-bred, they trained through the Great Drought on a homemade lake to win a Dominion rowing championship

DAVE DRYBURGH October 1 1938

Four Men in a Boat

SPORT

Prairie-bred, they trained through the Great Drought on a homemade lake to win a Dominion rowing championship

DAVE DRYBURGH

THIS IS the story of four men in a boat; of four prairie landlubbers who reached for the moon—and got it!

It happened at St. Catharines, Ontario, this summer, as oarsmen from Canada and the United States got together on the old Welland Canal to decide the 1938 Dominion rowing championships at the Canadian Henley.

Several days before the regatta opened, four brawny young men from the city of Regina, Saskatchewan, chugged into St. Catharines via automobile. Their arrival attracted little attention. Yes, they were going to row in the fours for the Regina Boat Club. They had broken the long and dusty road journey from the prairie capital for a workout at St. Paul, Minnesota. The trip down hadn't been bad although the business of sitting up all night on a Great Lakes ferry steamer hadn’t been altogether ideal training. Where was their shell? Down at the railway station. They’d shipped it by express.

A few hours later the four young men were out on the canal, working out the travel kinks without benefit of publicity. Few of the pre-race dopes t er s, as a matter of fact, gave the Westerners more than passing mention. A handful of casual spectators noted the rhythmic stroking of the visitors and wondered how such a stroke could be developed on the bald-headed prairie, chiefly famous recently for its lack of water, but nobody took the trouble to enquire further into the mystery.

Then came the payoff. Pulling as sweet a stroke as ever eddied the waters of the Henley course, the Westerners won the junior four-oared event to the plaudits of a startled crowd. Then on the final day of the regatta, they swept on to convincing victory over the best that famous sculling centres in Eastern Canada and the United States could offer in the senior fours, to win the Dominion championship.

Only then did the dopesters get busy in an effort to find out what it was all about. Judge their astonishment when they discovered that the new champions had never had professional coaching; that their club had been able to dig up only $100 to send them to Henley—hence the arduous motor trip; and that they had trained through the period of the Great Drought on a homemade lake which, during four of the last eight years, has been dry after the middle of July!

“Only Four Guys in the Other Boat”

ALL FOUR members of this amazing crew Harry Duckett. Dick Priest, Jack Peart and Newt Hughes— are sons of the prairies, and not one of them has been in the rowing game more than ten yearsten hit-or-miss years because of the comparative lack of water at Regina.

Harry Duckett is the leader. He is the man who kept rowing alive through the bad years as he worked night and day in his capacity of rowing captain. He dreamed of some day winning at the Canadian Henley, and now, at thirtyone. when he is president of the club, he has achieved his ambition. He was bom on a farm west of Saskatoon, became interested in rowing when he joined the Regina

club around 1927. “I just naturally took it up.” he says.

Jack Peart has also seen thirty-one prairie summers and winters. He was born in Regina, started to row in 1930. and now is as keen as they come. Dick Priest and Newt Hughes, the other crew members, graduated from a bant am four which won in an International regatta at Minneapolis. They didn’t take up rowing until 1934.

Duckett refuses to listen to stories of Regina’s handicaps. “Why,” he drawled in his quiet voice, "there were only four guys in the other boat. And four go;xl Westerners can match four guys from any part of the world any time. We had the stamina at St. Catharines. The only thing we lacked when we reached there was a long row on the lake to get timing and perfect condition.”

Condition they already had, however, despite their strenuous trip east by automobile. The Regina Boat Club could provide only $100 toward expenses. Yet the quartet, displaying the typical Western spirit, laughed at obstacles, and stroked their way to a Dominion championship.

To make Regina’s rowing feat even more notable, another member of the club, Bud Gladwell, entered the 140-pound singles and finished third. It is his first year at singles, and he went to the Henley fresh from winning first place in the junior event at the International.

Training on an Artificial Lake

THE ONLY water within forty miles of Regina is the artificial Wascana Lake in front of Saskatchewan’s stately Parliament buildings. A crew rowing from one end to the other has to make a turn at right angles halfway down the course. The total distance is something like seven eighths of a mile. In width, it is no more than thirty good strokes for a crew such as Harry Duckett led to victory in the Henley. Sometimes there’s enough water to drown an average-sized man. Mostly there is not.

On the northern shore of the lake stands the Regina Boat Club clubhouse. Every night the club's oarsmen set out for the southern shore in their shell and then stroke their way back to the clubhouse. In the height of the season they go out in the morning, too. before hiking downtown to work. There is no professional coach, no time off from work for rowing.

Wascana is literally a homemade lake. When the first settlers hit Regina, about 1880, there was no sign of a lake. There was a creek, a good creek in the spring but a mere trickle in the summer. In the heart of what is now the city, there was a bit of a slough, running back in long reeds and grass from the banks of the stream. The pioneers would go out there in the morning and bang away at ducks. The creek wasn’t called Wascana. That’s a fancy name that came in later years. The creek’s first name was Pile O’ Bones. It got its name from the piles of buffalo bones that could be seen along the banks. A creek that fed into Pile O’ Bones was called Manybones. and is still called that.

Then someone had an idea. How about damming the creek and making a lake? A combination bridge and dam

was built near what is now Albert Street, which is the main street leading from the older settled part of Regina to the Parliament buildings and the newer Lakeview residential district. The water was trapped, and the old duck slough became a lake. A second bridge was built. This one came down in 1931, and in its place the Government built a fine wide bridge, a fifth of a mile long. It has a dam with a spillway. The city built a beach, hauling in sand to get rid of the muddy footing. And in June and in rainy seasons it’s a good-looking lake.

A few years ago, however, the lake went dry. What little water was in the puddle was drainer!, and 50,(XX) Reginans prayed nightly that enough water would come the next spring to fill the “hole.” Boat Club members went around all one winter with fingers crossed, and Judge James Bryant, then Minister of Public Works in the Saskatchewan Government, talked of drilling for springs to run water into the lake.

Mr. Bryant had a couple of wells drilled on the creek some two miles east of Regina, but the wells must have thought that filling a lake was too big a job, and they quit.

Eventually, however, water came, but in four out of the last eight years there hasn't been enough water to row after July 10. Another year there was water, but a crew of Popeyes, well fortified with spinach, couldn’t have propelled a shell from one end to the other because the lake was thick with weeds. Boat Club members collected razor blades in the city, rigged them up together, and cut the weeds so the oarsmen could get some practice.

History of the Club

THE Regina Boat Club was started in June, 1907, when well-known Reginans, such as “Dad” Stemshorn and Sheriff Wilkinson, owned sailboats. It was a sailing club during the first few years, but in 1910 Ed Corbeau became interested in rowing and the sport was introduced by Ray Coan from Cornell University. The four-oared shells were purchased from Putney-on-Thames in England, and in 1913 Regina made its first bid for rowing laurels, a crew competing at the Northwestern International regatta at Winnipeg.

Then came the War, and there was no action until 1920, when a work-boat four finally brought a title to Regina. They won the Machine Cup at Winnipeg, and it was a proud day at the club when R. W. Hamilton. Frank Chenoweth. Howie Otton and D. Munroe arrived home with the trophy.

In succeeding years the Reginans competed at Duluth and Kenora, but the present cycle of rowing enthusiasm didn’t start until 193-1, when three crews went to Winnipeg and made a clean sweep at the International regatta. This was repeated at Minneapolis in 1935. but the years 1936 and 1937, at Kenora and St. Paul, were not so successful.

Now four men in a boat have gone over the top for the R.B.C. and Regina is talking of a rowing crew for the Olympics in Finland in 1940. {The End)