Known as the “grand old man of rowing”, Bob Johnston, a boat builder, moved west to Vancouver in 1888 and started rowing the next year. In a period of intense enthusiasm for the sport in North America, Johnston thrilled thousands of spectators.
As an amateur competitor, Johnston took many titles between 1890-96 including the BIRC Sculling championship in 1890, the BC amateur championship in 1891-92, the Pacific Coast amateur championship in 1892, and the BC amateur singles championship in 1893-94. He won the CAAO Regatta held at Burlington Beach by ten lengths over the other twelve competitors.
Johnston raced against and beat American champions Jack Ryan in 1895 and W.S. McDowell in 1896. Johnston turned pro in 1896 and continued to challenge and beat other competitors. He was best known for challenging world champion Jake Gaudaur Sr., of Hamilton, to a three-mile race in Vancouver’s Coal Harbour in 1898. Johnston lost the $2,500 purse by two lengths. In his final race, he won the $1000 purse by beating former world champion John Hacket by four and a half lengths.
Johnston went on to become a successful coach to many Vancouver Rowing Club oarsmen including the 1932 Olympic bronze medal-winning double sculls crew.