George Brown, 1839 – 1875

Nova Scotia Museum History Collection P151.22

Rowing into History

Nova Scotia has produced many great rowers and paddlers over the past 150 years. The tradition began in our seaside province back in the1800s and continues today, though now more commonly on lakes and rivers with canoes and kayaks. The most renowned "oarsman" of the early period — as they were called back when rowing was a major spectator sport that attracted huge crowds — was a working fisherman from Herring Cove. His name was George Brown.

Brown adapted his strength and skill in rowing a fishing dory out at sea to single shell racing competitions in harbours. Beginning in 1864, George Brown won the single-scull championship held at Halifax year after year, taking home the much-coveted Cogswell Belt. After his fifth straight win, the race organizers told Brown he could keep the belt permanently, because it was obvious he could not be beat. It was not long before Brown began to race against the best scullers in the world.

The Halifax Aquatic Carnival began in 1871, and it attracted international rowers from England and the United States. Brown finished a mere four seconds behind the world champion the first time he competed at that level. In 1873 and 1874, in multiple races, it was the fisherman from Herring Cove who prevailed. Brown had become the fastest rower in the world at single sculls at the five-mile distance.

While training to defend his crown in 1875, however, the local fisherman suffered a stroke. George Brown was only 36. For his accomplishments, he has been inducted into both Nova Scotia's and Canada's Sports Hall of Fame. There is also a monument to him at Herring Cove.