The Rise of Recreational Boating in the Hamilton Harbour

How Recreational Boating was Influenced by the Industrial Revolution

The Rise of Recreational Boating in the Hamilton Harbour

How Recreational Boating was Influenced by the Industrial Revolution

Luke Huntley-Brown

Hamilton - 2022

The establishment of recreation and leisure time led to the rise of recreational boating which quickly became a prominent activity for middle and upper-class communities. Recreational boating in Hamilton Harbour was not always a common activity and recreational activities, in general, were not very common or popular in most countries until the 18th century. This leads to the question- what led to the rise of recreational boating in Hamilton Harbour? Recreational boating in places such as Hamilton Harbour, largely stemmed from the beginning of the Industrial Revolution which introduced the concept of “recreational time,” and thus promoted the construction and purchase of boats used for leisure. From there, the rise of Yacht Clubs and recreational boating continued to evolve and has shaped present-day recreational activities. This paper will take a journey through the evolution of recreational activities and how recreational boating was popularized and brought to Hamilton Harbour.

When it comes to recreational boating, many people believe it is as simple as buying a boat and sailing it, but this is not the case. There are many other pieces to this puzzle- the first being the introduction of recreational time to the general public. Although recreational activities and other hobbies seem like a weekly routine for most families in the 21st century, many centuries ago recreational time was a new and developing concept since people did not have scheduled recreational time to enjoy themselves. In Ancient Rome, recreational activities consisted of violent games that replicated warfare practices and the goals of these activities were typically to kill, survive, and win.1 These games provided entertainment, but it was quickly realized to be too barbaric and too dangerous simply for the purpose of recreation. As time moved on, the concept of recreation was revolutionized, and new recreational activities emerged but varied amongst countries. That was until the beginning of the Industrial Revolution which was the change from an agrarian economy and lifestyle to machine manufacturing.2 The Industrial Revolution introduced the concept of industry and machine manufacturing to Great Britain.3 The development of new machinery and the increase in factory jobs contributed to the Industrial Revolution single handedly restructuring society throughout Great Britain.4

While the Industrial Revolution started in Great Britain, this changing lifestyle and economy was soon adopted by other countries years later. The emerging idea of mass production led to an increase in the construction of sailboats, canoes, yachts, and other water transportation vehicles that became easier to produce and therefore more commonly purchased by the general public for recreational usage. Not only did boat production increase, but the Industrial Revolution created thousands of jobs for people of the middle and lower-class which allowed them to earn extra money and potentially spend it on recreational activities such as boating. With more adults working, shift work was established in major factories which created a gap in their working schedules. This new lifestyle and change in society led to the emerging idea of recreational time. Workers spent their free time differently but a common pastime that later developed, due to the amount of recreational time provided, was the use of sail boats, row boats, and canoes.5 Boating provided hard workers with an escape from their jobs and the stress of their everyday lives, especially within Hamilton which is known for its blue-collar workforce, and instead allowed these workers to enjoy themselves on the water.6

While the Industrial Revolution, in some respects, did allow some families to have more free time, it was primarily the elite that were able to participate in recreational activities such as yacht clubs, rowing teams, and boating. Sailboat owners at the time were considered to be elite because well maintained boats were expensive and finding the time for these activities was hard.7 This select group of elite men and women eventually came together to form one of the first sailing clubs in the world which was located in Ireland.8 The creation of sailing and boating clubs was the first real sighting of organized recreational boating since boats were usually used for work, travel, and food before then. The first ever American boating club was created in 1839 in Detroit, followed by New York six years later.9 As the years went on, boating clubs and boat owners became more popular throughout America and Canada. The Royal Canadian Yacht Club (RCYC) was one of the first official, most historic, and well-known boat clubs in all of Canada.10 It was discovered by eight men in the Toronto Harbour in 1852.11 As mentioned earlier, although the popularity of boat clubs was rising, many middle-class and lower-class people did not have the funds to be a part of these clubs. They were, however, still able to watch and enjoy these activities.12 For example, the RCYC had a big passion for sailboat racing and even offered large sums of cash to the winners of these races.13 Throughout the years, the Royal Canadian Yacht Club formed many rivalries, which in addition to the rewarding prizes, created a huge following from the people of each city who would spectate the races themselves.14

Figure 1: Royal Hamilton Yacht Club Postcard 1907

The Royal Canadian Yacht Club was imperative to the rise of recreational boating in the Hamilton Harbour because it was one of the first yacht clubs in Canada to popularize the recreational side of boating and competition between the different clubs and harbours. The RCYC was the grandparent to all boat clubs that later followed such as the clubs on Hamilton Harbour. Figure 1 demonstrates the Royal Hamilton Yacht Club (RHYC) in its early years.15 The RHYC is one of many yacht clubs currently found across Hamilton Harbour. Much of the RHYC was influenced and structured around the RCYC’s values and operations. Like the RCYC, the Royal Hamilton Yacht Club participated in sailboat races and activities as demonstrated by the sail boats at the front of the club in Figure 1. The club hosted and competed in events such as the National Regatta in 1908 which was held at the RHYC.16 Below, (Figure 2) shows a magazine advertisement that discusses different boating races held in Ontario during 1908. The fourth race posted reads the “National Y. C-L. S.S.A Regatta at Hamilton, Canada.”17 The RCYC and RHYC hosted various professional and organized boat races in Hamilton. Since the RHYC had members who owned sailboats and evidently participated in organized recreational boating events, it allowed the sport/activity to gain popularity and traction throughout the

Figure 2: CBS Magazine, Yachting 1908

city of Hamilton. The Industrial Revolution, and the recreational time that it provided, allowed for the general public to be able to watch these races and allowed for the quality of boats and boating events to continue improving.

In the late 19th and early 20th century, recreational boat rides and activities were becoming admired by the younger generations as they were beginning to challenge the Victorian lifestyle of the churches and schools, and thus the idea of recreation and leisure was becoming the ‘norm.’18 In an article dated 1883, it was noted that “rowing and sailing may be indulged in to almost any extent if the weather be fair.”19 The article read that no matter the time of day, there was always recreational activities to do by the seaside.20 This evolution of lifestyle and societal norms also went hand in hand with the opening of recreational parks. Throughout the 19th century, recreational parks were opening across North America, from seaside to the inland.21 The opening of these public parks gave more people access to the seaside and the ability to use their smaller personal boats, such as row boats. Rowing became a popular sport for young men in university, as many schools across North America developed a passion for the sport of rowing.22 Access to the waterfront through public parks also gave more people the opportunity to try the sport.23


Figure 3: Bastien Boats Canadian Yachting, 1876

There was a consistent growth in the general public’s passion towards recreational boating in the late 19th century. With the newfound love and appreciation for the concept of recreational boating in major cities and smaller towns, it led to a whole new set of jobs, particularly building recreational boats. Figure 3 identifies the shop of Henri L. Bastien, a boat manufacturer on the shore of Hamilton Harbour.24 He was one of Hamilton's most well-known boat makers during the late 19th century.25 Bastien and his employees manufactured multiple different boats such as canoes, rowboats, and sailboats which provided the people of Hamilton with access to smaller boats.26 With manufacturers such as Bastien constructing and producing smaller boats, in addition to public parks being more frequently used, recreational boating dramatically increased in popularity. The new society that was developed by the Industrial Revolution assisted in popularizing the recreational boating lifestyle that was becoming a trend across North America.

In connection to modern-day recreational boating, there are now many different water activities and sports such as sailing, sea-dooing, tubing, rowing, and yachting. Past events such as the National Regatta, held in 1908 at the RHYC, paved the way for the more modern events. For example, there are still multiple boating clubs at the Hamilton Harbour today including the Royal Hamilton Yacht Club, Macassa Bay Yacht Club, and the Hamilton Bay Sailing club. The Royal Hamilton Yacht Club offers many recreational programs such as race night which is a weekly competition on Tuesdays and Thursdays. There are even different themes such as father and daughter races or competitive races for trophies and different prizes.27 The club also offers youth programs to teach children how to sail and race boats. 28 Both Macassa Bay Yacht Club and the Hamilton Bay Sailing Club offer very similar programs as the Royal Hamilton Yacht Club. Although Hamilton Harbour is home to many boating clubs there are other aspects of recreational boating taking place in the harbour, such as the Hamilton Waterfest Dragon Boat Festival- an annual event held in the harbour where multiple teams compete in dragon boat races ranging from 200 meters to 2000 meters long.29 In 2017, over 45 teams across Ontario participated in the festival. The dragon boats are usually filled with 22 athletes who row their way past their competitors to win the race. Although the events held at Hamilton Harbour have changed, the concepts and structure of these modern events remain the same as those held in the early 20th century, specifically the thrill of competing in a boating race for competition and prizes.

In conclusion, the rise of recreational boating at Hamilton Harbour was greatly influenced by the commencement of the Industrial Revolution, as it provided people with what was, at the time, thousands of jobs, a steady income, and more freedom. City life also began to expand after the Industrial Revolution which drew people to places where boat clubs existed, and public parks were available. After moving to the city and seeing recreational boating and yacht clubs, many people were influenced to become engaged with the activities and the community that it fostered. When the general public began to enjoy the lifestyle of recreation and leisure, they also started finding new hobbies such as sail boating, canoeing, waterskiing, and many other activities that involved boats. The popularity of recreational boating spread across the world and eventually made its way to the Hamilton Harbour, which is home to the Royal Hamilton Yacht Club, Macassa Bay Yacht Club, and the Hamilton Bay Sailing Club. To this day, Hamilton Harbour has a rich history of boating events and small boat shops that influenced recreational boating and how it has changed over time.

  1. Daniel McLean, “Early History of Recreation and Leisure,” 2012,

  2. “Industrial Revolution,” Encyclopedia Britannica,

  3. “Industrial Revolution.” 

  4. “Industrial Revolution.” 

  5. McLean, “Early History of Recreation and Leisure.” 

  6. London Almanack, “Illustrated London Almanack,” Victorian Voices, 1874.

  7. Formula Boats, “The History of Recreational Boating,” Formula Boats, September 26, 2018, 

  8. Formula Boats, “The History of Recreational Boating.” 

  9. Formula Boats, “The History of Recreational Boating.” 

  10. Toronto Public Library, “Early Days at the Royal Canadian Yacht Club,” Local History & Genealogy, 2018,

  11. Toronto Public Library, “Royal Canadian Yacht Club.” 

  12. Toronto Public Library, “Royal Canadian Yacht Club.” 

  13. Toronto Public Library, “Royal Canadian Yacht Club.” 

  14. Toronto Public Library, “Royal Canadian Yacht Club.” 

  15. “Royal Hamilton Yacht Club House,” TuckDB Postcards, first used December 28th, 1907,

  16. “Racing Events for July,” in Yachting, volumes 3-4 (July 1908): 54, Google Books,

  17. “Racing Events for July,” 54. 

  18. McLean, “Early History of Recreation and Leisure.” 

  19. Little Folks, “Little Folks 1878,” Victorian Voices, 1887,

  20. Little Folks, “Little Folks 1878.” 

  21. McLean, “Early History of Recreation and Leisure.” 

  22. R. C. Lehmann, “English Illustrated Magazine 1890A,” Victorian Voices, 1890,

  23. Lehmann, “English Illustrated Magazine 1890A.” 

  24. “Boating History: Bastien Boats of Hamilton, ON.” Canadian Yachting, 2019. 

  25. “Boating History: Bastien Boats of Hamilton, ON.” 

  26. “Boating History: Bastien Boats of Hamilton, ON.” 

  27. “Royal Hamilton Yacht Club,” Royal Hamilton Yacht Club, Hamilton, ON, 2021.

  28. “Royal Hamilton Yacht Club.” 

  29. “Photos and Video: Hamilton Waterfest Dragon Boat Race Festival,” Hamilton Spectator, July 9, 2017,