Biographies » John Schofield Guest - 1906-1975

Jack Guest portrait

Jack Guest was born on March 28, 1908, the same day as Joe Wright Junior, and in many ways this fortuitous event was to have a beneficial event on Canadian rowing. Guest was born in Montreal, but grew up in Toronto where he went to school, at Morse Street Public School and Central High School of Commerce. Summer vacations were spent at the family cottage on Toronto Island.

Guest's first serious rowing began at the Don Rowing Club in eights and fours. In the 1927 Royal Canadian Henley, Jack entered the Junior Singles. Although he wove all over the course, to the dismay of some of the other competitors, he nevertheless went on to the Association Singles. His next victory was won with some better steering, and he finally found himself in the Championship Singles against Joe Wright Jr. and Johnny Durnan of Toronto.

For the young neophyte, the competition was unequal, and Wright managed to walk away with the trophy. For Guest it was the beginning of a meteoric career, and one he started by beating the noted New Brunswick sculler, Donald Ingraham, as well as Brockville sculler M. Kelly and Vancouver sculler Frank Adams. It was the beginning of rivalry and teamwork with Joe Wright Jr. which would put Canadians among the world's scullers for four years.

Jack Guest with oars

Guest subsequently joined the Argonaut junior eights. Now coached by Joe Wright Senior, he found himself in the shadow of young Joe. In 1928 (an Olympic year), Guest went to the Henley Royal accompanied by the Joe Wrights Sr. and Jr.It was his first attempt at winning the Diamonds, and his second year at competitive sculling. The two Canadians were considered strong contenders.

Guest met Wright in the semifinals and rowed one of the strongest races ever. In the end Wright beat Guest by one half length and moved on to the finals where he met his nemesis of 1927, Robert Lee, and won by one length. Again the Canadians had won the coveted trophy and Toronto went wild.

But Guest and Wright did not return home immediately. Instead they teamed to form a double which competed at the 1928 Olympics in Amsterdam, and won a silver medal.

The 1929 Henley Royal was to be another Canadian attempt to bring home the Diamond Sculls and another attempt at the Grand Challenge. Again jack Guest and Joe Wright went over together, this time in company with Argonaut's Senior Eight. Again the two scullers met early in the competition, and while their race exhausted both competitors, again Wright beat Guest by one half length. In the eights, Argonauts, having rowed London to a dead heat (the first ever in the history of the Henley), lost by one length in the rerow.

The next day, Wright advanced to the finals of the Diamonds, while 1927 winner Robert Lee was beaten by a new challenger: Gunther of Holland. Gunther and Wright met in the finals, and in a thrilling finish Gunther won by three feet. It was to say the least, disappointing.

In 1929 Jack Guest left the Argonaut Rowng Club and returned to the Don Rowing Club and a new coach, an experienced English waterman named Harry Arlett. Guest embarked on a 12 month training program of unprecedented severity. With a single-mindedness now characteristic of the champion athlete but relatively unknown then, Guest put himself through a winter of gym workouts, including hours of back-breaking work daily on the rowing machine. With the ice off the bay, Arlett insisted that he concentrate not on sprints or time-tests but on form and stamina. Infections from blistered hands almost put an end to training, but they healed quickly and by early summer the pair went off to England to continue training on the Thames. Not until a couple of weeks before the Henley Regatta did Arlett allow Guest to open up; when he did, Guest must have felt a great surge of confidence because of the power he could now generate so smoothly.

Jack Guest in a boat

By the opening heats of the singles, Guest had been brought to his physical peak, and his form had been honed to a flowing beauty that almost disguised the power. Joe Wright Jr., after winning his first two heats, lost to the German oarsman, Boetzelen; it was Boetzelen whom Guest would meet in the finals. The race was almost an anti-climax. Guest, rowing effortlessly at 34 strokes per minute, kept pace with the German to the half-way mark, and then, increasing the beat, pulled away to one of the most one-sided victories in the history of the Diamond sculls. Though no lengths were given, the margin was at least 200 yards.

Jack Guest was a popular winner. His easy, long stroke was beautiful to watch: the English sporting papers raved about it. As Ted Reeve wrote at the time, "The Henley crowd dotes on a good style, and when the big Canadian came down the course as if he were coasting they were ready to roll over and butter themselves." Guy Nickalls, the great English rower who won five consecutive Diamond Sculls, wrote in his 1939 autobiography that Jack Guest was "the most perfect sculler that I have ever seen."

Again, Toronto was ecstatic and offered a civic reception. The Globe even went so far as to chortle that "if this continues, the Diamonds will cease to be a novelty in Toronto". At the reception, quiet modesty was the impression gained of this man who had become the World's Sculling Champion. He was never to row competitively again, retiring that same year.

Guest never severed his ties to the rowing community. Guest served as the president of the Don Rowing Club from 1938 to 1952. He also served as president of the Dominion Day Regatta Association for ten years, as president of the Canadian Association of Amateur Oarsmen in 1955-56, helped manage the Canadian team at the British Empire Games in 1962 and 1966, acted as a director of the Canadian Olympic Association, and in 1969 became the first Canadian elected to the governing body of world rowing, where he sat as the Continental Representative of FISA.

Jack Guest is now a member of Canada's Sports Hall of Fame.

Reprinted without permission from Peter King in CATCH magazine, January/February 1980, and from Canada's Sporting Heroes, by S.F. Wise and Douglas Fisher.