Rowing was introduced at Western at both the junior and varsity levels in the early 1970s, to immediate popularity and intercollegiate success. Coached by Dr. Phil “Doc” Fitz-James and later by a series of part-time coaches, like many women’s athletic programs the team struggled at first to gain the funding and equipment that was standard issue for men’s teams. Despite these setbacks, the Western oarswomen created for themselves a reputation for dominance throughout the 1970s winning Ontario Women’s Intercollegiate Athletic Association (OWIAA) crowns in 1977-78, 1978-79, and 1979-80.
FWP Jones Trophy recipient Heather Clarke (left) and Julia Santavicca (right) rowing in the early 1980s.
The 1980s can only be described as a decade of dominance by the Western women’s rowing team. They were unstoppable in both seasonal and OWIAA competition between 1980 and 1990, winning the top spot every year except the 1982-83 and 1983-84 seasons. Notable rowers that were part of this dynasty included Olympians Angela Schneider, Lesley Thompson, and Marnie McBean. Continued success for the rowing program at Western was influenced by the establishment of the National Rowing Centre in London in 1986 and the coaching of Al Morrow after his arrival at Western in 1980.
For a history of men's rowing, click here.