Mustangs put oars in water for celebration

Peter McClelland’s career as a Mustangs rower still makes waves in his life.

“Does rowing teach grit and determination or do people with grit and determination choose rowing? Maybe a little bit of both,” said McClelland, BA’07, MA’09. “But grit and determination are things I have brought forward from my days at Western. Someone may be better than me at a particular thing, or smarter than me about a particular subject, but nobody will outwork me. I have found if I operate under that assumption – that I won’t get outworked – the deficits I face tend to shrink.

“That is something rowing instilled in me and I think about in my work now.”

McClelland knows he shares this sentiment with hundreds of Western Rowing alumni across generations. And now, the Mustangs Old Oars Club Chapter leader is urging them to join in celebrating a program that has given them all so much.

In September, Western Rowing celebrates its 60th anniversary with a weekend alumni event. There will be activities for all generations and their families, including the chance to cheer on the current Mustangs team at the Western Invitational Regatta, a formal alumni dinner, and the annual Old Oars Regatta and boat christening.

The timing is perfect – even if the number seems odd, McClelland admitted.

“I know 60 isn’t 50. Or 75. Or even 100. It isn’t one of those traditional round numbers,” McClelland said. “But the 60th anniversary is kind of a natural time to us. For the last decade or so, we have really established our alumni programs. Sixty felt like the right point to be bringing back and getting people engaged, especially those who have been outside the scope of the program for a little while.”

Historically, Western Rowing has stood as an elite program in North America.

In 1957, rowing was recognized as a Western intercollegiate men’s sport after years of petitioning by future coach Phil ‘Doc’ Fitz-James. Rowing was introduced as a women’s sport in the early 1970s. Since those days, both programs have had incredible success.

Western Rowing boasts seven women’s and six men’s Canadian University Rowing Championships since the event started in 1997, as well as 27 men’s and 24 women’s Ontario University Athletics titles. The program is the only Canadian university team to win the Henley Royal Regatta (England), and has claimed multiple Head of the Charles victories, the world’s most popular head race, held in Boston; multiple Dad Vail victories, an historic Philadelphia regatta; and multiple Canadian Henley victories, North America’s largest club regatta, in St. Catharines.

More than 120 Western rowers have represented Canada in international competition, winning medals at every level of competitios including Junior, U23 and Senior World Championships, as well as Commonwealth, Pan-American and Olympic Games

Western’s 35 rowing Olympians have won 20 medals starting with Roger Jackson in the Tokyo Games of 1964 to Lesley Thompson-Willie in the London Games of 2012.

Nine Western coaches, or former rowers, have coached at the international level, six at the Olympics, including current coach Volker Nolte, who led the 2016 Olympic team in Rio.

McClelland said the last decade has seen tremendous cohesion among the rowing alumni ranks.

Much of that centres on the Mustangs Old Oars Club, a group that brings current team members together with alumni. The club strives to financially support current crew members and fund initiatives such as equipment purchases, as well as increase inter-alumni communications through social events and racing opportunities.

Among its efforts, rowing alumni established an endowment fund in 2008. Modeled after the Ivy League rowing schools, like Harvard, Yale and Princeton, the fund supports training and racing equipment, as well as other capital expenditures, and is raised from a broad base of alumni donations and fundraising activities by the current team.

The club, like the celebration, builds on a lifelong connection rowers feel for their alma mater.

“The people are the reason so many of us still feel so strongly connected to Western,” McClelland said. “You go through these intense experiences with your teammates – be it through training, racing, the seasons you spend with people. Those friendships are deep and everlasting. This is a wonderful opportunity to celebrate those.”


The Mustangs Old Oars Club invites all former Western Rowing team members to join in celebrating 60 years of rowing excellence, Sept. 15-17 in London. There will be events for all generations and their families, including the chance to cheer on the current Mustangs team at the Western Invitational Regatta, a formal alumni dinner, and the annual Old Oars Regatta and boat christening.

Visit and click on Events for details and tickets.