Flatwater Canoeing and Kayaking Sprint Racing is Canada’s National Sport
There’s not much doubt that flatwater canoeing and kayaking sprint racing is Canada’s national sport.
We introduced it to the world in a demonstration regatta at the 1924 Paris Olympics. I was told that one the of the events was a tug-of-war war canoe race, which was one of the ways that the voyageurs entertained early European explorers to the Canadian wilderness.
We formally introduced the sport at to the Olympics in 1936 in Berlin and it is the only Olympic sport named after a country, Canadian canoeing or C-1, which stood for Canadian canoeing. You will note there is no Hungarian hammer throw or Polish pole vault.
Frank or Francis Amyot*, a member of the Canadian sports Hall of Fame, won the first race and the gold medal for Canada. The sport was so obscure that the Olympic Organizing Committee would not pay for Frank’s passage to Europe so he paid with his own money. Two other Canadian paddlers also won silver and bronze medals in Berlin.
* Frank is also reported to have single-handedly saved 4 members of the Ottawa Roughriders football team from drowning in Moonies Bay, Ottawa.
Canada also won 2 medals in 1948 at the London Olympic Games, 2 silver medals at the Helsinki Olympics in 1952. Canada also made the finals in Melbourne, Australia, 1956; in 1960 Rome, Italy and in 1968 Mexico City. 1972 Olympics in Munich were one of the few times that we failed to place any crews in the finals. However, in Montreal 1976 John Wood won silver in the men’s 500 m C-1 missing the gold medal by something like 30/100th of a second. Canada boycotted the Olympics in 1980 in Moscow however in 1984 in Los Angeles we won gold and silver medals in Men’s C-1.
We have continued to win medals at the Olympic and world championship level on a regular basis.
Aside from the fact that there’s been the Canadian Canoeing Association since 1900, and some canoeing clubs were formed as early as 1864, (Lachine Boating Club), the sport and the activity of recreational canoeing are important parts of our cultural identity.
It’s not surprising that it is our national sport because half of the worlds fresh water is found within the borders of our nation.
The nation was explored in canoes and most of the current day roads and railroads actually follow established canoe routes. Canoeing also supported most of Canada’s early economic development – namely the fur trade.
Samuel de Champlain wrote in 1603 as one of the first European visitors to our country noted, “Their canoes, referring to the native’s hand made boats, are some eight or nine paces (about 20 feet) long and a pace (or a pace and a half abroad) amidships, and grow sharper and sharper towards both ends.
They, [canoes] are liable to overturn, if one knows not how to manage them rightly; for they are made of a bark of trees called birch-bark, strengthened within by little circles of wood strongly and neatly fashioned, and they are so light that a man can carry one of them easily; and every canoe can carry the weight of a pipe, [about 1000 pounds]. When they wish they can go overland to get to some river where they have business, they can carry them, [canoes] with them.”
Champlain was also astonished to see that two natives could paddle these boats much faster than his men could row the ship’s boat so we can assume from his comments that, in effect, we’ve been racing canoes here in Canada for over 400 years.
Over the last 113 years there has been Canoeing or Aquatic Clubs in Alberta, British Columbia, Ontario, Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Quebec, Newfoundland, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, and the Yukon Territories. [My personal favorite is the Bohemian Amateur Athletic Association, which was formed in 1897 in Brockville, Ontario.]
The motto of the Canadian Canoeing Association is is based on an ancient Roman phrase Per Aquas as Fraternitatem – Through the waters to friendship – and so it has been for many many Canadians.