Ned (Edward) Hanlan was born in Toronto in 1855 and was one of the country’s greatest oarsmen. He grew up on the west side of the Toronto Islands in what is now known as Hanlan’s Point. He learned to row as a boy and won his first amateur rowing championship in his late teens in the Toronto Bay.
Ned’s father was said to be a hotelier on the Island. While we couldn’t confirm it, the story goes that Ned could out-row the police when transporting liquor to his father’s hotel.
Ned’s Rowing Career
In 1876, a group of Torontonians formed the Hanlan Club in order to back him as a professional athlete. The organization bought Ned an English-made shell with both swivel oarlocks and a sliding seat. While both these rowing innovations were fairly new, Ned was the first to master them by creating a long and fluid stroke. Even though he stood only about 5′ 9″ tall and weighed 150 pounds, the Boy In Blue (a 1986 movie) defeated all of his much larger competitors including those at the world single sculls championship held in England in 1880. He kept his title until 1884.
Hanlan was not only the first Canadian athlete to become a world champion in an individual event, he was also a household name. Many thousands of people came out to watch him row. He was a proud Canadian.
His Life After Being a Pro Athlete
In 1880, Ned Hanlan bought a lease for a point of land near his family’s home on the Island and built a charming hotel. In 1892, he sold the hotel and moved his wife, six daughters and two sons to a home on Beverley St (near Baldwin St). In the late 1890s, he became an alderman for a few years. In 1908 and at the age of 52, he passed away due to pneumonia. Thousands came to pay their respects at St Andrew’s Church. The following year, a fire swept through the hotel he built on the Toronto Islands.
The Ned Hanlan Statue on Toronto Islands
In 1926, a bronze statue that stands 6 m or 19 ft tall, was dedicated to Ned Hanlan by the City of Toronto. It was at the grounds of the CNE for several decades until it was moved to Hanlan’s Point (by the ferry dock) in 2003.