History of the Fraser Valley Rowing Club as I Remember It

by Caroline Collier (club founder)

There once was a young lady, Caroline, that would be me, who had learned to row firstly at the Vancouver Rowing Club and then onto the Burnaby Lake Rowing Club. In 1980 she married and a couple of years later moved to Chilliwack.

After I was in Chilliwack I missed rowing greatly, so imagine my amazement when the sports editor of the local newspaper wrote an article exclusively about rowing (somewhere around 1984 or 5). It was mostly about the time in 1954 when the Vedder Canal had been turned into a rowing course to host that event at the 1954 British Empire Games. (It didn’t get as much publicity at that time because Bannister broke the 4 minute mile in running). At the end of the article this sports editor made a comment which I took to understand that someone was starting a rowing club in the Fraser Valley. I went to the Chilliwack Newspaper office and talked with the editor (name escapes me) and was disappointed to learn that no one had actually started a rowing club, but he thought it would be a good idea if I did! Yikes! I didn’t see that one coming. I went away shaking my head but started to think about what might be involved in starting a rowing club. I ended up talking to the right man, incidentally a flat water kayaker, who had gone through the same process. He advised I set up as a non profit society and get “us” a bingo license. While I was going about this set-up process I got a ‘boat builder’ (it was his first!) to build me a Kingfisher designed rowing shell (Windsong). I paid him $2,500 for the boat and another $1,000 for the oars. That was the Club’s first boat and has been many budding rower’s first single experience. I approached Rowing B.C. and found a supporter in Don Arnold. Subsequently Rowing B.C. “loaned” the Fraser Valley Rowing Club a double training wherry and the old racing Pocock fiberglass single. They were with the Club as long as I was there (until 1998). I approached the Junior High School in Chilliwack to find young people who would want to learn to row and compete. I arranged for us to use a meeting room in the Public Library and waited to see who would show up (parents were encouraged to join us). It was successful and the first year (without a club house or even boat dock) I took a group of young teens to compete in the B.C. Summer Games in Delta Dees. We had great fun and the kids learned a lot (I don’t remember any medals). They were probably at a disadvantage with equipment.

The first couple of years I did things like talk on the radio and address different service clubs in the area to gain members and find funding. At that time Henning Jensen joined, I taught him to row, and he brought down quite a few people who learned to row. Things grew gradually. In these early days we stored the boats we had (3) in an old tobacco shed at a farm downstream from where the clubhouse was eventually built. I taught lessons out of Jacque Macdonald Park by putting on gum boots and with a line attached to the boat I ran up and down the shoreline giving directions. I was the only coach for a long time. I took it upon myself to take my levels of coaching and got them through the College and Rowing B.C.

I found a friend in Judy …… who had rowed with the University of London in England.
Being a runner who frequently used the dikes for her runs, she knew of a place near the Barrowtown Pump Station that she felt would be a great place for a boathouse. She was the one also who originally felt that the Sumas River was the place to row. We had previously tried Cultus Lake and some members encouraged that location, but for safety reasons among others, it was decided to use the Sumas.

I lived in Chilliwack but the upstream side of the Sumas River was in the Abbotsford District so that is who I approached about using a part of their property for a boathouse. (I had first talked with Frank who ran the pump house). Mr. Rempel, the city engineer, met with me one day on the bridge at Barrowtown and we talked about a site for the boathouse. I showed him the area we had in mind (quite close to the pump house) but the District wasn’t keen on having any group that close to their operations. He did, however, offer the piece of property we eventually built on, a good three acres. I didn’t even realize it belonged to the District, but they had purchased it from Mr. Quadling, the neighbouring farmer, when they had built the dam and pumping station. We got a sweet deal and when the negotiations were done we didn’t even end up paying a yearly fee for the use of the land. The deal is that when the boathouse is no longer used by the rowing club that it will revert to District ownership.

When we (it finally became ‘we’) managed to get a bingo license we were then able to think about building a dock and a boathouse (in that order). I designed the boathouse (which is not yet complete by the way) and Henning had it built, doing much of the manual labor himself with the help of some club members. I told him exactly how I wanted the dock built and he exceeded my expectations! When it was new I am sure it was the best dock in the province for rowing, maybe even the country!

We thought of lots of ideas for ‘membership drives’. We offered the sport to the army base as another means of fitness and competition. We got a few, but we had more luck with our law enforcement agencies. We approached the RCMP in Chilliwack and the Abbotsford City Police and tried to set up competitive teams. We didn’t get enough members to do that but we did get some good members through them.

We were first able to build Boathouse I (20’ x 40’) and a couple of years later Boathouse 2 (20’ x 60’) so we could fit fours/quads. Henning also had a metal worker friend of his in Yarrow build our boat trailer. It is nothing if not sturdy!

In the early years we transported boats to different locations for a change of scenery. We were very ‘family oriented’. We trailered the boats to Manning Park Lightening Lakes usually once a year for a fabulous row there and picnic as well. We did the same to Harrison Bay and up the Harrison River – Wow! How wonderful. It was then that Fred Jackson joined us after a 30+ year absence from rowing. His coaching took us to another level and because of his expertise two young women; one from the RCMP and the other the Abbotsford Police won gold medals at the Fire and Police Games in Calgary. Near that time too Nancy joined the club. She was a great coach and had adoring rowers. Her part of the club was competitive and I was more involved with the recreational rowers. As is usually the case in any rowing club there is always a little strife between these two factions. I think we worked it out pretty well.

author: Fraser Valley Rowing Club


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