Getting to Know the South Niagara Rowing Club
Location: Welland, Ont.
MISSON: To bring new participants of all ages into the sport of rowing, to develop their fitness, athleticism and rowing skills, and to further their interest, involvement and achievement in rowing.
GOALS: Inclusivity, Excellence, Sustainability, Integrity.
WHO WE ARE: SNRC strives for a diversified membership of both youth and adults that includes developmental, recreational and competitive programs. The club environment is both safe and welcoming and treats the abilities and goals of all participants with respect and support.
SNRC HISTORY: Even before the South Niagara Rowing Club was established; rowing had already started taking place in Welland. Shortly after the Dain City section of the Welland Canal was decommissioned in 1973, Rowing Canada Aviron quickly discovered this flatwater gem and started training the national team on the waterway in 1974. In 1975, members of the Welland community thought it would be a great idea to establish a rowing club so the waterway could be better utilized on a regular basis and the love of rowing could be shared with more members of the South Niagara community. So, in 1976 a small group of individuals, in partnership with the government and sponsors, formally established the South Niagara Rowing Club. In its first year, the SNRC hosted the Canadian National team along with the British National team who needed a training site in preparation for the Montreal Olympics.
The SNRC was established on the South Course in Dain City. The club is located on Colborne St. at the north end of the South Course and the club’s members have access to a straight 4 km waterway, all protected on both sides from the wind by its high banks. A portion of the waterway was fully surveyed for the creation of a full 2000 m, 6 lane, Albano buoyed racecourse, which has been used over the years for many key regattas including the National Rowing Championships, Ontario Rowing Championships and the South Niagara Invitational, to name but a few.
The initial group of founding members of the SNRC included Jack Berkhout, Al Tendon, Donna Pearson, Tom Boyer, Ed Gudaitis, Silvio Palumbi, Brad Clements, Joseph Furgal, Norm Adams, James Reilly, Robert Reilly, Richard Mesaros, Paul Stringer and Ivy Riddell. In addition to founding the club, they and many others have made numerous contributions over the years to improve club infrastructure and build the South Niagara rowing community. The club’s Quonset Hut was the first building erected on site in 1977, followed by the Small Boathouse in 1978 and in the late 1990’s an additional portable building was brought to the site to be used as a club office. The SNRC’s Large Boathouse was completed in 1999, giving the club adequate facilities to house all their boats.
Also in 1999, the SNRC hosted the Regatta of the Americas which was one of the four major regattas in the 1999 World Rowing Festival and preceded the World Rowing Championships that were being held at the Henley course in St. Catharines. This regatta provided an international caliber racing opportunity for both junior and masters club athletes who did not qualify as part of the elite category of racing required for the World Rowing Championships. Thousands of competitors attended from places like Hong Kong, South America, England, Australia, Mexico and throughout the United States. This event put the SNRC on the map as an excellent regatta venue suitable for hosting major events.
Donna Pearson was a key leader for the club and served as Club President from 1984-1994. Described as being ‘one of those people who have an endless amount of energy and just makes things happen’ by our current President Kevin Fuller, Pearson was responsible for bringing many events to Welland, including the Ontario Rowing Championships in mid-1980’s, where it remained for several decades. While serving as President of the club, she was also involved with the Canadian National Team program as a team manager (1984-1990) and took the team to the 1988 Seoul Olympics. Pearson broke many barriers as the first female national team manager for RCA, the first female rowing club President in Canada and the first female FISA team manager for Canada. She was also responsible for bringing canoe, kayak and dragon boat events to Welland. Over the years there were countless high profile national team athletes who trained out of Welland, including Silken Laumann, Kay Worthington, Derek Porter and Marnie McBean, some of whom have gone on to become key members of the Canadian Olympic Committee and International Olympic Committee. Pearson still keeps in touch with many of these former athletes.
Another key member in the club’s history is Tom Boyer, who is a familiar face to many in the Ontario rowing community from his time as an umpire. Boyer was a coach at the SNRC for many years and now helps the SNRC out as one of their expert boat repairmen, keeping the club’s fleet of shells on the water. In more recent years, Mario Ventresca has been a key contributor at the club and has been involved for more than 15 years. Ventresca is primarily involved in the facility-side of the club and helps keep it operational with small repairs and making sure the docks are in order. Helen and Scott Taylor have also been key contributors for the last 20 years, first getting involved when the first of their four daughters started rowing at the club.
Scott is the guru we have for keeping our coach boats running or anything mechanical,and Helen has been a key board member for many years, and she’s been our regatta chair for both our South Niagara Invitational and Head of the Welland regattas for a number of years now. She’s done a phenomenal job with that, making sure the events are well-run and organized and because of her efforts these events have become two of the premier regattas of their kind in Canada. They’ve both been major contributors at the club for a very long time and we are very lucky to have them.
Kevin Fuller is SNRC’s current President and has been a member of the board of directors since 2012 and has done a tremendous amount of work during his time as President.
In addition to operating as a rowing club for almost 45 years, the SNRC has also been hosting regattas for almost as long. They’ve established two marquee events on the Ontario rowing calendar that are highly anticipated each year – the South Niagara Invitational and the Head of the Welland Five Bridges Classic. The South Niagara Invitational, formerly known as the High School Invitational, is hosted on the May long weekend and is typically the last major regatta on the calendar before the Canadian Secondary School Rowing Association (CSSRA) Championships. The event is a two-day regatta, and many schools use it as a tune up of sorts for the CSSRA’s. It’s the second largest high school regatta in Canada, next to CSSRA’s, and usually draws anywhere from 50-65 teams and over 500 crews who compete in sprint races on the South Course.
The Head of the Welland Five Bridges Classic takes place on the North Course and is hosted during the fourth weekend of September, which coincides with the Grape and Wine Festival in St. Catharines. Competitors row for 5km to complete the head race, with the ‘Five Bridges’ name coming from the five bridges the competitors’ row under during the race. The race starts at Merritt Island across from the Community Boathouse and ends at the Canoe/Kayak Flatwater Centre at the bottom of the North Course.
The SNRC will also sometimes host internal regattas for club members, as well as Come Try It Days for new rowers a few times per year, the occasional club barbecue and rowing clinics where they typically bring in some outside coaching expertise to work with youth and masters athletes on their technique and rowing skillset. SNRC is a busy club in the spring, summer and fall months with the events we host, not to mention all the regattas the competitive rowers at the club travel to. Each year we host a Captain’s Dinner in the late-fall where members of the club get together, have a nice meal, and celebrate everyone’s achievements and contributions over the last year before heading into the winter.
SNRC is a full-service club with diverse programming for every segment of the rowing population. We draw members from all over the Niagara region, with some coming from as far as Hamilton and Burlington. Our youngest members are around 12 years old and their oldest member is 91. SNRC prides itself on being able to provide programming for anyone interested rowing.
Over the course of its history, the SNRC has developed a number of rowers who have gone on to compete at the elite levels of the sport. In addition to a countless number of rowers who have competed at universities across Canada and the USA, SNRC rowers have also advanced to the national team level. Kerry Maher Shaffer may be the most internationally decorated SNRC alumni who competed as a member of both the under-23 and senior national teams. In 2015, she captured two gold medals, one in the double sculls and the other in the quadruple sculls, on home waters at the Pan Am Games. Jacob Koudys is another SNRC alumni who had significant success internationally where he captured a gold medal at the 2015 Pan Am Games as coxswain of the men’s eight. Jacob was also the coxswain of the gold medal winning men’s coxed four at the 2014 World U23 Championships and the bronze medal winning men’s eight at the 2014 FISU World University Championships. Nick Tavares and Sam Stewart are also two recent club members who have competed at the international level. Tavares was on the national team and competed at the World Rowing Junior Championships in 2014 and 2015 and the World Rowing Under-23 Championships in 2016, 2018 and 2019. Stewart just joined the club after competing in the men’s double at the 2021 World Rowing Under-23 Championships in the Czech Republic in early July and is working as a coach for the competitive program this summer.
The SNRC has also had numerous Ontario, National and Royal Canadian Henley champions over the years and has the distinction of holding the course record at the Head of the Charles in the women’s youth four which has stood since 2010. In 2016, nine SNRC alumni were inducted on the Welland Sports Wall of Fame for the amazing five Henley gold medals this group combined to win in 1996. Within this group there were three sets of twins which included Tom Blacquiere, Rob Blacquiere, Chris Bonfoco, Mike Thibault, Craig Green, Jeff Joscak, Jamie Joscak, Sarah Montgomery and Steve Montgomery. Many probably know the Blacquiere’s from the many Ontario regattas they have umpired over the years. Tom is a FISA-licensed umpire and has had many key roles including member of the Row Ontario Umpires Committee, Chair of the RCA Umpires Committee, Regatta Chair for the Row Ontario Championships and Masters Championships and Row Ontario Vice President-Events and Umpires.