Creation of the DDRA and Founding of the Canadian Canoe Association

by Ken Butler, July 2009

The Dominion Day Regatta Association (DDRA) was created to fill a need by the current aquatic clubs of rowing and canoeing in the Toronto region.

The association being formed brought both rowing and canoeing together in one regatta on a national holiday to create more interest Prior to 1884, match rowing races had been held in Toronto primarily ‘because of Ned Hanlan who was world famous for his rowing skills and successes. In order to have a regatta there had to be at least two contestants for each race. The rowing interests bad two clubs – the Argonaut Rowing Club and the Don Rowing Club both founded in the 1870’s, while the Toronto Canoe Club founded in 1880 and the Island Amateur Aquatic Association founded in 1883 were the canoe clubs. Other clubs which would participate were the Buffalo Canoe Club of Port Abino, Ontario. And the Orillia Canoe Club of Orillia, Ontario, founded in 1894.

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In 1884, DDRA held its first regatta in Toronto on the Hanlan’s Point lagoon, later to be known as the Hanlan Memorial Regatta Course.

The American Canoe Association (ACA) was established in 1880 and by 1886 the northern division was established to accommodate ten Canadian clubs then existing, seven of which were in the Montreal area. At the ACA regatta in 1889, Toronto Canoe Club introduced the war canoe and it was not well received or accepted. The American position on canoe racing was that the 20 ft. four-boat would be adequate for them. The war canoe in Canada was popular for the many small Canadian clubs which competed locally in the Brockville and Montreal regions. It allowed a beginner or a novice paddler to participate in races much as the dragon boat of today.

 The Canadian clubs wanted their own organization rather than continue as members ofthe American organization without their war canoes. In 1900, the Canadian Canoe Association (CCA) was formed. The war canoe was so important to the Canadian clubs that it would be featured as the first race in its first regatta.

 The first canoe club to be founded in Toronto was the Toronto Canoe Club established in 1880, the same year that the ACA was founded. By that time, the Lachine Boat and Canoe Club (founded 1864), and the Grand Trunk Boating Club (founded 1875) were existing. In 1883 the Island Amateur Aquatic Association was founded on Long Pond, Centre Island, Toronto.

The first CCA national regatta was held in 1900 on the St. Lawrence River in Brockville and the nine founding clubs participated. There were five events, for men only, on the race card, all at ½ miles: single blade singles (C-l), single blade tandem (C-2), single blade fours (C-4), double blade singles (K-l), and senior war canoe (C-I5). Points were not awarded until 1904. The first race of the regatta was the senior war canoe won by the Bohemian Amateur Athletic Association of Brockville. Had points been awarded, the Ottawa Canoe Club would have won with 2 firsts, 1 second, and 2 thirds. Of the nine clubs competing, four clubs did not place in the first three finishers.

CCA was established in 1900 by Bohemian Amateur Athletic Association (Brockville), Britannia Boat House Club (Ottawa), Brockville Rowing Club (Brockville), Carleton Place Canoe Club (Carleton Place), Grand Trunk Boating Club (Montreal), Kingston Yacht Club (Kingston), Lachine Boat and Canoe Club (Lachine), Ottawa Canoe Club (Ottawa), and Brookville YMCA Canoe Club (Brockville); there were another 15 clubs in Canada. These clubs had been established, one as early as 1867, and over the next few years would join the association, including the two Toronto clubs.

In 1903, the CCA national championships added the juriior and intermediate classes consisting of single blade singles, single blade tandem, and single blade fours and the open mile war canoe which added greatly to the regatta which now numbered 12 races.

In 1904, the first three divisions were formed: the northern division consisting of Britannia Boat House Club, Ottawa Canoe Club, Rideau Aquatic Club, Carleton Place Canoe Club. New Edinburgh Canoe Club; the east division consisting of Grand Trunk Boating Club, St. Lambert Boating Club, Lachine Boat & Canoe Club, St. John’s Yacht Club, St. Stephens Amateur Athletic Club, and; the west division consisting of Brockville Rowing Club, Bohemian Amateur Athletic Club, Brockvlle YMCA, and Smith Falls Canoe Club. The Toronto Canoe Club joined CCA in 1906, the same year that each division could send three crews for each event to the championships regatta. They won junior single blade singles, a second in intermediate singles blade tandem, and a third in senior single blade singles and a third in senior single blade fours, for a total of 7 points. In 1907, the results were much the same as in 1906.

At the championships in 1904, points were awarded for the first time in order to clearly define a winner of the regatta. Points awarded: 3 for first place, 2 for second, and 1 for third. On this system, the Ottawa Canoe Club was the first champion club scoring 13 points with 3 firsts and 2 seconds of the 11 races that were run. This point scoring system would remain in effect until 1926 when it was changed to 5 points for a win, 2 for second, and 1 for third. This scoring system would remain until 1955 when it was changed to include the first five places: 8 for first, 4 for second, 3 for third, 2 for fourth, and 1 for fifth. It would be changed again in 1991 to its present values.

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It was in 1908 that canoeing would be firmly established by the Toronto Canoe Club, the Island Amateur Aquatic Association and the Parkdale Canoe Club. The 1908 regatta was held on Lake Deschene which is a widening of the Ottawa River on the north side of Ottawa. The Toronto Club won the regatta scoring 11 points with the Island club scoring 10 points and the newly admitted Parkdale Club won both war canoe races scoring 6 points. For the Toronto Canoe Club it would be the first of seven champion regattas in a row. After their 1908 win they would host the championship regattas in Toronto Bay in 1909, 1912, and 1915. The Parkdale Canoe Club would be the next Toronto club to host the regatta which was in 1921 on Lake Ontario. The Balmy Beach Club would join in 1909.

Much of the reference material is from C. Fred Johnston’s book “100 Years of Champions”, 2nd editon, 2003. Ken Butler acknowledges the contributions of Judy Tutty and Attila Nagy who have edited his previous articles and the committee members of the association.

Ken Butler has been a member of Dominion Day Regatta Association and CanoeKayak Canada (formerly Canadian Canoe Association) since the 1940s.