51 Jessie Street, Brockville
1899 Champions – Bohemian War Canoe Team
This photograph, taken in 1899, shows the 15 Bohemian Club paddlers in their war canoe, a young boy, and two club officials. Identified has been Frank Black, captain, first on the left, Alf Doran, 9th from the left, George L Horton, President of the Bohemian Athletic Club, standing on the left, with George C. Howison on the right. From newspaper accounts, we know that the following young men took part in the first years of the athletic club: N. Abbott, A. Champagne, William Daniels Jr., W. Deir, A. Fortier, Guilboard, John Hilliard, R. Lunney, John Monahan Jr., G. Morrison, J. Nicol, H. Price, Fred Robinson, Fred Timleck, Frank Timleck, Willy Timleck, I Wadham, and W. Winifred. This crew won most of their races in the club’s second year of operation and beat all comers in the northern division championships in Gananoque.
The Bohemian Amateur Athletic Association was established about 1898 to provide paddling and lacrosse experiences for the young men of Brockville. Their first achievement came the next year with a 15 man war canoe team which went on to great success in their first season.
June 7, 1899 was the first anniversary of the opening of the Bohemian Club House on Jessie St. The occasion was celebrated with the launching of their new war canoe, a boat about 30 ft. long by 3 ft. wide and holding 15 paddlers. George P. Graham MPP, and secretary of the club, officiated at a gala event in the evening which included a concert by the band of the 41st Battalion of Rifles, and culminating with a dance to the music of Prof. Stenson’s full orchestra.
The sport of canoeing gained a new interest in the Town of Brockville with the first races in June of 1899. A team was mounted by the established Brockville Rowing Club, and the “sports” of the YMCA placed an order for a new war canoe with Nelson Gilbert of Brockville and looked forward to its delivery. The Bohemians started practicing in earnest. Their team was made up of working class young men, some of them employed in factories like the James Smart Foundry.
This photo was taken during one of the canoe races held in Brockville and shows the big canoe of the Bohemian Club with captain, Frank Black at the helm.
The first organized race was held in Gananoque on July 1st. The Dominion Day events included yachting, rowing and bicycle races, but a lot of interest was centred on the war canoes and a race between the Brockville Rowing Club and the Bohemian Club. The canoe of the Kingston Club did not arrive for them to take part. The Bohemian canoe was the clear winner in this race taking home a handsome silver cup on their first outing.
The next occasion to race was in Brockville on July 18 when the Firemen’s Field Days were held in Brockville. On that occasion, a team from Vaudrueil, Quebec came to show the Brockville boats a bit of spray. The race, however, came off with the Bohs winning by a length and a half, and the BRC second.
The next big challenge to overcome would be the eastern Ontario meeting of all teams at the American Canoe Association (Northern Division) competition at Gananoque on August 14, 1899. In the morning race about a dozen crews were entered, including, Ottawa Britannias, Dorval Juniors, Toronto, Ottawas, Kingston Cataraquais, Brockville Rowing Club, and the Bohemians of Brockville. The Bohemians registered the win by a close margin as the top three canoes finished one second apart. The BRC was seventh in the race.
That year they were also the winners of the Walker Cup at the Canadian Association of Amateur Oarsmen championships.
The club house and storage buildings of the Bohemian Athletic Club were located on the shore south of Jessie St. The club was founded in 1898 and took over possession of the property of the former Chaffey Bros. Lumber business. This sports facility was located just east of Lachapelle & Sons, boat builders.
Sources: Most of the information about this war canoe team has been hard to puzzle together. Thanks to Chris Stesky, formerly a reporter with the Recorder & Times, for searching the newspaper microfilm. The excellent photograph of the crew at the top, formerly in the collection of George C. Howison, was in the possession of his daughters, Helen and Marion Howison. It was taken by Alex L. Murray of Murray & Son, photographers of Brockville.