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Why Did I Paddle? - Johnnie Fitzerald, 1930



1930 racing season for Balmy Beach Canoe club war canoe and a reflection of the reasons why they paddled. By Johnnie Fitzgerald

There are times, when sitting sipping one in the rumpus room, and gazing at some tarnished paddling trophies, that I often wonder why I ever paddled. In fact, I have often thought the same about oarsmen, who have even less fun and without the pleasure of seeing where they are going.

Still sane and young enough to vividly recall our years around the Balmy Beach Canoe Club, those early training days of May were anything but enjoyable.


Curly Thorne, who must have been suckled on a bottle of vitriol, needed only a big whip to complete the impression of a modern Simon Legree.

With the water temperature around a comfortable 40 degrees (F), and a new coat of varnish on the war canoe, Curly made sure the crew carried the craft well into the lake before being launched. The feeling managed to return to the feet before midnight, if the tennis players left any hot water.

Ah! early May. No muscles left, no condition, and hands that had lost all traces of callouses. Green kids in the crew and every other stroke the water either hit you in the back or squarely in the stomach. Knowing it was chilly, Curly took it easy on the boys. We only went to the pumping station and back and with barely enough strength left to carry the war canoe back to the racks.

For the next four weeks we enjoyed sore muscles in the shoulders and arms, hands that were blistered and cramped, but seldom a hot shower. The boiler sprang a leak early in the season and we needed three dance gates before the darn thing was fixed. By the end of the third week one wondered if it was worth it all.

But the regattas were coming up. Now we can strut out stuff before the admiring eyes of our best gal and a huge gallery. The first regatta this gent entered was at the Toronto Island Canoe Club. A multitude of 60 paddlers and 12 slightly interested spectators viewed the races. From 1 O'clock until 5:30 we sat, waiting for the war canoe race. Our Mayor, Bob Saunders, was real good to us that afternoon. He was the started and by 6:15 he finally pulled the gun. We finished second.

Dinner followed. Sandwiches, cold coffee and maybe a piece of cake if you were fast on the draw. We danced to a three-piece band and stayed up real late, midnight.

Monday night the training routine started all over again. The same cold water, cold showers and cold-hearted Curly Thorne. Came Saturday and the Parkdale Canoe Club regatta. Came the war canoe race-Came Second.


For the entire season of 1930 we finished second. Our trophy room looked as bare as the backs of those beautiful young creatures out there on the beach.

But success finally came. We won the mile at C.C.A. at Hamilton in the British Empire Games. Boy! Watta win. The season over, victory parties, fun, and every night free from Curly Thorne and those training trips up and down the lake.

For five years, some with a C.C.A. win, most of them fruitless, we paddled. Always the muscles, hands and disposition left us fit company only for a bear with a bee in his ear.

Why did we paddle? Frankly, I don't know except the exercise did us a lot of good. Those shower room brawls will never be forgotten; the guys we met are still speaking to us; the fun of just being out on the water, sometime beating big guys, sometimes losing to smaller ones; sometimes being a local hero, other times a bum; the memories of C.C.A. regattas and the gang whooping it up for sheer joy of finishing another season of hard work, I guess that's why we paddled. Money can't buy memories like those, nor the tarnished mugs we have in the rumpus room. Besides which, it was nice having a bath every night.

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