As a teenage athlete in 1989, Grant Boyd had to make a hard choice between hockey and rowing.
He was drafted into the OHL by the Sault Saint Marie Greyhounds in 1989, but had also enjoyed his high school rowing experiences at Welland Centennial Secondary School and South Niagara Rowing Club (SNRC). Boyd made the decision that his main athletic passion was rowing, and accordingly enrolled at Brock University, which had a strong program in the sport.
Brock won national championships during Boyd’s undergraduate years, during which he studied physical education and exercise physiology. His zeal to compete at the highest level took him west, to the Canadian national team training camp in Victoria, BC. Boyd also collected nine Henley gold medals as a rower during his career.
“I was training with the national team, but decided to return to Brock for a second degree in sport management, with a specialization in coaching education,” said Boyd. “I got my first job as an assistant rowing coach at Mercyhurst University, in Erie, PA while coaching at SNRC during the summer months. Two years later, I became the head coach at Upper Canada College, a boys’ prep school in Toronto.”
He worked at UCC for 19 years, and moulded the school’s rowing program into one of the best in the country before leaving in 2022 to become the high-performance director for Row Ontario. He was also the Ontario head coach for the Canada Summer Games held in Niagara in 2022, where his crews earned eleven gold medals, two silver, and one bronze.
“Not a bad haul,” he said with a smile.
The job at SNRC is a homecoming of sorts for Boyd, who was born in Port Colborne but raised in Welland and Fonthill.
“Yeah, I guess I’m returning to my roots at south Niagara,” he said. “It’s nice to be able to help build a program that is growing, but it's also about the people. The men and women here at SNRC are so genuine and welcoming, and very motivated to succeed on the water. So that was definitely part of the appeal.”
The tranquil waters of the Great Dain, a decommissioned portion of the Welland Canal, have been home to the South Niagara Rowing Club since its founding in 1976. The waterway includes a four-kilometre straightaway for training and a six-lane, 2000-metre, Albano buoyed course for sprint racing, protected on both sides from the wind by its high banks. From mid March until late November, a steady stream of crews — from local high schools all the way up to national teams — in an array of shells are on the water, prepping for regatta competition.
Boyd voiced excitement over SNRC’s recent announcement to retrofit its existing outdoor pavilion, and turn it into a year-round, 1600-square-foot training centre for general fitness and ergometer work, rowing and coaching clinics, and club meetings. The facility will also house administrative space, a locker area, a kitchenette, and two change rooms.
“The facility won’t be grandiose, but it will be functional and accessible for our athletes,” said Boyd. “We’ll continue to rent time at the indoor rowing tank at Brock, which has great rowing resources.”
High school crews from Welland Centennial, Thorold, and Lakeshore Catholic train on the South Niagara course during the spring season, which culminates with the Canadian Secondary School Rowing Association (CSSRA) championships on the Henley course in St. Catharines in June. Boyd said that SNRC will participate in a full slate of regattas, including the Canadian Henley, in the summer season, plus longer “head” races in the fall, including the club-hosted Head of the Welland Five Bridges Classic. Some South Niagara crews will be heading to Boston for the Head of the Charles in October.
Boyd has a full complement of coaches for the summer, ready to instruct the multi-sport camps for youths, adult and youth learn to row programs, and the competitive crews.
“The high school kids are coming along really well, and we've got a dedicated Masters competitive group of about 20 that I am incredibly impressed with. They are very committed and eager to learn. We've made some changes to their technique, and you can see the improvement on the water.”
With a huge new subdivision of Empire Homes going in across the street from the club, Boyd is optimistic that an influx of new families to the area will be a source of new talent on the water.