Edward "Ned" Hanlan loved to taunt and tease his opponents by allowing them to catch up to him and then in a burst of speed, he would pull away and win rather easily.
In an era when hockey, football and baseball enjoyed no sportspeak in Canadian society, Hanlan was this nation’s first true sports icon, the finest single sculler this country ever produced and quite likely the best the world has ever known. In 1873, Hanlan beat two better known scullers in Sam Williams and William McKay to capture the championship of Toronto Bay. In 1874, the Hanlan Club of sponsors helped him to arrange competition contracts and constructed a scull for him with a sliding seat that became his trademark. The seat slid over runners on its own layer of grease. It would simply slide back and forth. Despite his 5-foot-9, 150-pound frame, Hanlan brushed aside his opposition with stamina buoyed by smooth, long-looping strokes. On Oct. 15, 1877, he beat Wallace Ross of New Brunswick to win the Canadian title in Toronto and in 1879, Hanlan won both the Championship of America and the Championship of England.
Next in line for Hanlan was the world championship set for Nov. 15, 1880 on the River Thames. His opponent was Australian Edward Trickett. It appeared to be a bit of a mismatch because Trickett was much bigger and stronger at over 200 pounds. But on a course of about four and a half miles as about 100,000 watched from the shoreline, Hanlan won in a record time of 26 minutes, 12 seconds.
Hanlan successfully defended his world crown time and time again until he was finally beaten in 1884 by Australian William Beach. His last competitive race was in 1897 at age 42. In retirement, Hanlan entered politics in Toronto and was elected as Ward 4 alderman in both 1898 and 1899. When Hanlan died of couldn’t-be-treated pneumonia on Jan. 4, 1908 at age 52, he was accorded a civic funeral which attracted 155 carriages and some 10,000 mourners.
Hanlan liked to be known as the Boy in Blue and a movie of that name was produced in 1984 with Nicholas Cage in the lead role. Canadian actress Cynthia Dale played Hanlan’s wife. In 2004 Hanlan's monument at Hanlan's Point was rededicated in a City of Toronto ceremony.