Prince Edward Island is Canada’s smallest province. But the Island, as people on PEI call it, consistently exceeds expectations. On the tourism front, the appeal of Anne of Green Gables, gorgeous red sand beaches and plentiful lobster suppers means that little PEI has about four times the number of per capita visitors than its bigger neighbours. Seems that PEI rowing is also outsized. Little province big rowing.
Without Rowing, Would Canada Exist?
Charlottetown played a significant role in the creation of Canada, and rowing was right there. PEI is called the Birthplace of Confederation, since it was the Charlottetown Conference of 1864 that ultimately led to Confederation in 1867 when Canada was formed. Can we conclude that if there had not been rowing, perhaps there would be no Canada? As the Canadian Encyclopedia explains:
The unofficial and uninvited Canadian delegation set sail from Québec City for Charlottetown, mooring in the harbour there on 1 September 1864. The ship that carried them was the Queen Victoria.
The arrival of the Canadians coincided with a much-anticipated circus coming to Charlottetown, and the local hotels and inns were filled to capacity with eager circus-goers from across the Island. While a few of the Canadian visitors found lodging ashore, most remained aboard the Queen Victoria, which served as their floating hotel for the duration of the discussions.
With so much excitement about the circus being in town, the arrival of the Canadians went virtually unremarked. However, PEI’s top-hatted colonial secretary, William Henry Pope, rowed out to greet them in a borrowed, flat-bottomed boat that reportedly also had barrels of flour and molasses aboard. The Canadians were later rowed ashore in the ship’s boats by the uniformed crew of the Queen Victoria, and given a more fitting and formal greeting.
That’s Sir John A. waiting for the rowing boat to arrive to take him to the Charlottetown Conference. What if William Henry Pope had not been able to row?
Province of Rowing Champion(s)
The 2019 population of PEI was a mere 156,947 people. Yet the little province that can, produced Emily Cameron-Blake. As a member of the national team, Cameron won a World Championship silver medal for Canada with the sculling quad in South Korea in 2013 and then had a sixth place finish at the Worlds in Amsterdam the following year. After she retired from the national team, Emily rowed for Oxford University and was part of the first ever coastal rowing event at the Commonwealth Games, winning gold, silver and bronze. In 2019, she competed in the Monster the Loch, on Loch Ness, a 21 mile mass participation event and is the record holder in the women’s coastal single in a time of 3:07. That’s 3 hours, seven minutes! Emily now lives in London, England but will always be an honourary member of Rowing PEI.
We would like to point out that when Emily was growing up in Summerside, there were no rowing clubs on the Island. In a few short years, PEI once again proves it is a small island with big rowing, boasting a proportionately higher percentage of rowers than its population proportion nationally. Way to go PEI.
Oh, we need to amend that. PEI has had dory (fixed seat) racing for at least 40 years, with champions crowned at the Murray River Festival. I bet that PEI has more dory rowers per capita than say, Ontario. Like we said, little island big rowing.
A Leader in Coastal Rowing
PEI is an island after all, and pretty small. You can drive from tip to tip in about three hours, so you are always close to water, especially salt water. Rowing PEI embraced coastal rowing, which we think all rowers should care about. They purchased their first coastal boat in 2011, gradually growing their fleet. We are delighted, since those are the boats which we use for our PEI rowing tour.
Rowing PEI is the proud host of the Red Island Regatta, which was first held in 2016. The regatta is held on the Brudenell River, which is part of our tour. The Red Island Regatta was one of the first, maybe the first in Canada, to feature events for flat water boats (fine boats) in the morning and coastal boats in the afternoon.
Their leadership continues. In 2019, the Red Island Regatta was the first in Atlantic Canada to include beach sprints, which are 500 metre races, with a beach start and finish. In 2020, the beach sprints will be expanded to offer a full morning of events.
Some More Fun PEI Rowing Facts
Anne of Green Gables rows! Yes, really. Check out this photo from our 2018 tour, when she showed up at Panmure Island, complete with red pigtails. That is further proof of the importance of rowing on PEI, when its best known icon takes up the sport.
Buoys figure large in rowing, especially coastal and beach sprints, where racing involves sharp turns around them. Coxswains navigate by looking for the next buoy. That would be very difficult on PEI, where thousands might be in view at one time. Want proof? Have a look at this photo of the mussel bed buoys we are cruising past. Or better yet, come and see for yourself. And after some big rowing on this little island, join us for lobster, mussels and other Island treats.
With thanks to Nancy Russell, our guide on our PEI tour, for excellent ideas, research, photos and good parts of the writing.