Toronto Feature: Ned Hanlan | The Canadian Encyclopedia


Toronto Feature: Ned Hanlan

This article is from our Toronto Feature series. Features from past programs are not updated.

This content is from a series created in partnership with Museum Services of the City of Toronto and Heritage Toronto. We gratefully acknowledge funding from the Ontario Ministry of Tourism, Culture and Sport, and the Department of Canadian Heritage.

Ned Hanlan
Present site of the Ned Hanlan monument on Centre Island, formerly at the CNE grounds (photo 2012 by James Marsh).
Ned Hanlan, Rower
Ned Hanlan sculling for the championship of the world, London, England (courtesy Life magazine).
Ned Hanlan, memorial
Ned Hanlan statue on the Canadian National Exhibition grounds (courtesy Canada's Sports Hall of Fame/X981.63.3.6).
Ned Hanlan, rower
During a time when rowing was immensely popular all over the world, Hanlan was Canada's first world champion (courtesy Library and Archives Canada/C-25324).

Toronto Feature: Ned Hanlan

"Five-Year-Old Rows Across Toronto Bay to see Prince of Wales"

So the newspapers reported, as Albert Edward, son of Queen Victoria, arrived by steamer cheered by thousands. It was a foretelling of things to come as that young boy, Ned Hanlan, would go on to become Canada's first international sports superstar, and to win rowing competitions before admiring crowds the world over.

Ned Hanlan grew up on the western arm of Toronto Island. As a young boy, he imitated older scullers of the day by practicing on a toy shell. He began competing when he was 16, and in his first singles race he won the championship of Toronto Bay. The first to master the new invention of the sliding seat and swivel oarlocks, Hanlan won the Canadian, American and English championships in quick succession and then the world championship in November 1880. Improbably, a kid from the colonies beat the best of the Brits on the Thames River, London, in front of 100 000 spectators.

Ned Hanlan was Canada's first world sporting champion and its first great celebrity. During his career he won more than 300 races and suffered fewer than a dozen defeats.

In 1880 he erected a picturesque summer hotel on Toronto Island and attracted customers with a variety of amusements. The City of Toronto named the western end of Toronto Islands "Hanlan's Point," and in 1926 dedicated Emanuel Otto Hahn's bronze statue of him on the grounds of the Canadian National Exhibition. In 1996 it was moved to its present location on the Island and rededicated in 2003.

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