Ned Hanlan - Historical Background

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The sport of rowing had developed in England in the l770s, and by the nineteenth century was being introduced to North America by British emigres. In the l840s rowing clubs and regattas began to appear in Upper Canada, in communities such as Brockville, Cobourg and Toronto.

Edward Hanlan was born in Toronto on July l2, 1855. While he was still a young child, his family moved to the Toronto Islands where young Ned spent his formative years. When not in school or working at his father's hotel, he was usually sculling in Toronto harbour on a home-made racing shell that he fashioned himself from a two-inch plank of wood. A sculling shell is a light-weight, slender craft propelled by two sculls or oars, one held in each hand, whereas a rowing shell is propelled by paired oarsmen, each operating a single oar.

In l873, at the age of eighteen, Hanlan gained the single sculls championship of Toronto Bay. In a series of races over the next three years, he proved himself to be the best single sculler in Ontario. No definite rules or regulations existed at this time to define championship status or amateur and professional standing. Would-be champions simply rowed against one another in "all comers" matches. According to standards later established by the Canadian Association of Amateur Oarsmen founded l880, Hanlan became a professional in l876 when he defeated all opponents in the Philadelphia Centennial Regatta on the Schuylkill River.

In l877, he won the Canadian Championship in Toronto Bay, and the following year defeated all comers on the Alllegheny River near Pittsburgh to take the American title. In l879, Ned Hanlan was the undisputed master of rowing in North America. Looking for new challenges, he traveled to England and on June l6, l879, raced against the British champion, William Elliott, on the River Tyne course for the championship and the Sportsman Challenge Cup.

Hanlan won the race by eleven lengths before a crowd numbering in the tens of thousands. The following year, on November l5, he defended his title against Edward A. Trickett of Australia who, because of his many wins, claimed to hold the world's sculling championship. Hanlan and the Australian giant (Trickett stood 6 feet, 4 inches and outweighed the Canadian bantam by at least 50 pounds) rowed over the historic Thames championship course, a distance of 4 miles, 440 yards.

Hanlan won by three lengths, thus becoming the world champion. He successfully defended his world crown six times, as well as winning many other races, before losing it to William Beach, an Australian, in l884. Hanlan continued to race well into the l890s, but never managed to regain the world championship.

Throughout his rowing career, Edward Hanlan continued to reside on the Toronto Islands, in the area now known as Hanlans Point. For some years he operated a hotel there, as his father had. After selling much of his property, he moved to the city proper. He ran for civic office and was elected alderman for Ward 4 in l898 and again in l899. Ned Hanlan died in Toronto on January 4, 1908.


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