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John MacGregor and the Royal Canoe Club

The International Canoe Federation, founded19 January 1924, was the first Canoeing Association “To organize international competition in paddling sports.” However, the ICF was not the first canoe club or association that promoted or monitored canoe and kayak recreating and sporting events... That honors goes to the Royal Canoe Club (RCC), formed by John MacGregor in 1866.

A Thousand Miles in a Rob Roy Canoe-slide0
Launched Canoeing as a Recognized Sport and Recreation

According to Mary Evans of Sports Illustrated, “A major pioneer of canoeing for sport was a romantic Scot named John MacGregor.”

Evans writes that before MacGregor, approximately 150 years ago, primarily Native Americans, Eskimos and explorers of the world’s wildernesses, used canoes. However, “In canoes of his own design MacGregor made remarkable journeys and wrote quaintly beautiful books about his adventures.

The books, according to Evans, caught on with paddlers on both sides of the Atlantic and started a vogue for pleasure canoeing, races that has lasted to this day.

“In 1865 Macgregor launched his first canoe, which he had built to his own design. It was essentially a kayak with covered decks and made of oak faced with cedar. Fifteen feet long, it was 28 inches across and nine inches deep—just big enough for this 168-pound sportsman to squeeze into It weighed 80 pounds and was equipped with a bamboo mast (which could be used as a fishing pole) and a bright blue sail.”

Macgregor spent five months cruising around Western Europe, down the major rivers (the Rhine, the Danube, the Seine) and through the Swiss lakes.

The next year he published A Thousand Miles in the Rob Roy Canoe on the Rivers and Lakes of Europe.

It became perhaps the most talked of book of the year, according to Evans. “Until then the canoe had been something exotic but now it seemed within anyone's reach, and canoe clubs sprang up in cities like London and New York.”

MacGregor named his canoes Rob Roy, after Rob Roy Macgregor, the Scottish hero-outlaw, with whom he had a strong affinity.

“He took a second trip, through Scandinavia, and then in 1868 he loaded a new and lighter form of the Rob Roy on a steamer and set off for the Suez Canal and the remoter parts of the Holy Land.”

In his book The Rob Roy on the Jordan, he wrote that for six months “He took the "smallest boat ever seen in the East" and saw sights "entirely inaccessible except in canoe."

John MacGregor was a Scottish lawyer living in London during the 1800s. He launched canoeing as a recognized sport and recreation.

Through his books and lectures, John MacGregor attracted a group of interested paddlers. On 25 July 1866, they met at the Star Garter Hotel in Richmond to form the Canoe Club. It was the first Canoe club in the world and remains the oldest club of its kind

“Membership quickly grew and included Diplomats, Doctors, Lawyers and Businessmen. They all apparently used ‘Rob Roy’ craft and encouraged others to participate in their chosen sport.”

The first recorded Regatta took place Thames Ditton on April 27 1867, according to members of the Royal Canoe Club. Fifteen canoes took part in the paddling race and a canoe chase. In December of the same year, six members took part in the first long distance race over a 12-mile course between Teddington Lock and Putney Bridge.

“In 1867, Edward Prince of Wales (later to become King Edward VII) became Commodore of the Club and in 1873, by command of Queen Victoria, the Canoe Club became the ROYAL CANOE CLUB, this was a significant honour for the club, which was devoted to small craft at a time when larger yachts were a status symbol. We are very proud of our name.”

John G Hall
Charlotte Canoeing Examiner

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