Art and a Century of Canadian Rowing


70 pages
Contains Illustrations, Bibliography
ISBN 0-411-79911-4






Reviewed by Robert Barney

Robert Barney was Professor of Physical Education at the University of Western Ontario in London.


Art and a Century of Canadian Rowing attempts to trace the history of rowing in Canada from 1880 to 1980, and to superimpose that history on both well known and less well known art works that have the sport of rowing as their chief theme. Author Peter King, for many years involved in rowing as a competitive oarsman, as a coach and administrator, and lately, as editor of Catch, the national rowing magazine, has demonstrated in his first major literary effort a long-held personal love for rowing, as well as a sensitivity towards the sport’s history and the work of artists in Canada and abroad whose motivation has been stimulated by rowing’s aesthetic qualities. This obvious sensitivity and fondness, combined with a strong publication effort by Amberley House of Toronto, results in a book that is of some value to the sport history buff, that will most probably be enjoyable to the general reader, and that is attractive enough in its design and artistic presentation to take its place as a coffeetable book.

The sport history scholar, who realizes (as perhaps few in Canada do) that rowing was the nation’s most popular spectator sport in the nineteenth century — and its most successful in terms of gaining Canada international recognition in sport — will find the book rewarding in at least one distinct way: the book’s comprehensive appendix, which details Canada’s rowing history in tabular form. Presented in three categories, the appendix deals with: 1) Canada in world competition since 1880; 2) the complete record of gold medal performances of both men and women in the Canadian Royal Henley, the nation’s most prestigious regatta event; and 3) the record of winning performances in the Canadian National Rowing Championships. In effect, the appendix provides the book’s strongest contribution to the historical legacy of Canadian rowing. Attractive to the lover of pictures are the paintings, sketches, photographs, sculpture, and examples of medallic, trophy, and philatelic art, all attractively reproduced and well placed in the text in such a way as to boldly embellish the prose narrative.

The book, however, is not without its weaknesses. Chief among them is the fact that the book is not particularly well written. Secondly, the proof-reading responsibilities of both the author and the publisher can be taken to task. It is irritating to come upon error after error of a mechanical nature, errors that could have been eliminated by careful attention to detail. Further, the book noticeably lacks an in-depth treatment of the subject; excluding the appendix, it is only fifty pages long. And finally, books dealing with historical data should include an index. This book has none.

In weighing the positives against the negatives, however, the strengths of the book make it an eventual winner. Peter King is to be complimented for the task he undertook and the quite reasonable manner in which he brought it to a satisfactory conclusion. Both scholars and devotees of rowing, I think, would agree.


King, Peter, “Art and a Century of Canadian Rowing,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed September 30, 2023,