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Rowing for Pleasure

Davy Nichol rowing skiff, ca 1925. (CSTMC)

The late 19th century witnessed a dramatic growth of interest in rowing for pleasure. Recreational rowing began as a competitive sport for gentlemen in England in the first half of the 19th century. Interest in this activity quickly found a following in British North America.

Detail of an outrigger-type thole-pin from the Davy Nichol rowing skiff, ca 1925. (CSTMC)

In Canada, one of the earliest and most ubiquitous types of small rowboat was the skiff. European in origin, its use in Canada has been documented from the end of the 18th century. This multi-purpose craft ultimately became—in a number of nuanced variants—a common recreational feature on the waterways of 19th-century Canada. Indeed, rowing skiffs were once as popular as outboard motorboats are today.

Detail of rudder of the Davy Nichol rowing skiff, ca 1925. (CSTMC)

Rowing skiffs featured prominently in the rapid expansion of pleasure boat liveries serving the growing tourist trade of the late 19th century, most notably in certain parts of Ontario such as the Thousand Islands region of the St. Lawrence River. The Museum's small watercraft collection includes a number of recreational skiffs, which reflect the historic popularity of this boat type. One of the finest of these was built by Davy Nichol of Smith Falls, Ontario (800368). Situated on the Rideau Canal, halfway between Ottawa and Kingston in close proximity to the many resorts and cottages of this region, Davy Nichol's one-person boat building operation began in the latter part of the 19th century and continued into the 1940s. The Museum's Davy Nichol skiff dates from about 1925 and features a hull built using a sophisticated edge-fastened, strip-construction method and elegant, cast-metal outrigger-type thole-pins to hold the oars.