Fire on the Water.


112 pages
Contains Photos, Illustrations
ISBN 978-1-55028-972-5
DDC j797.12'3092




Reviewed by Anne Hutchings

Anne Hutchings is a public-school teacher and librarian in Ajax,


Ned Hanlan was born in 1855 to Irish immigrant parents. Living on Toronto Island, Ned came by his love of the water and boating honestly. Legend has it that Ned made his first solo crossing from the Island to Toronto’s Market Wharf, rowing across the bay in his family’s skiff, when he was just five years old!


As a teenager, Ned practised rowing endlessly and at just 18 built his own racing shell. Though small in stature (just five feet nine inches and 150 pounds) Ned won race after race. His reputation as a sculler grew until eventually a group of Toronto businessmen formed the Hanlan Club. Thanks to their support Ned continued rowing and went on to become the champion of Canada, America, and England, and, in 1880, world champion.


In Fire on the Water we meet many other famous rowers of the time, Canadian, American, British, and even Australian. We learn of Hanlan’s propensity for clowning around during races, a habit which many did not find amusing. The author’s extensive use of quotes from newspapers and contemporaries of Ned Hanlan gives the story a sense of immediacy. Archival photographs and illustrations and sidebars provide additional detail and add interest.


In 1884 Ned Hanlan was finally beaten, losing his title as world champion. He retired from competitive rowing in 1897. On January 4,1908, Ned Hanlan died at the age of 52. He was, without a doubt, Canada and the world’s first great superstar of sport.


Geared to readers in junior and intermediate grades, this lively and entertaining account of Ned Hanlan’s life and career will be a welcome addition to school and public library biography collections. Students in the Toronto area who may have wondered how places like Hanlan’s Point and Ward’s Island got their names will find it of particular interest. Highly recommended.


Lewis, Wendy A., “Fire on the Water.,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed February 29, 2024,