Those of you that have read the Club Yearbook will have seen that the club was founded in the 1980’s. However, we recently came across some information that takes the club history back much further. .  .

In May 2015, we received an email letting us know that sadly one of our founder member’s (Brian Sykes) had passed away.  The email went on to tell us a little of the club’s early history from its founding in 1965.

This has inspired us to put together a potted history of the club.. We hope to add to this as we find more details –  if any older members can add anything (or correct anything) email us on

Founding of the Club

Brian Sykes, who although he is probably unknown to any present members of Halifax Canoe Club, founded the club in the summer of 1965.  Using all his persuasive skills he managed to convince the Local Authorities to provide extremely good canoe building and housing facilities in the old Mess building of Wellesley Barracks; the, by then, ex-garrison of The Duke of Wellington’s Regiment at Highroad Well, Halifax.  The Canoe Club remained in this enabling accommodation for several years, beyond the time, in 1968, when, Brian moved to take up a new teaching post on the island of Jersey.

Brian taught many founder members how to roll (at Park Road baths), got us interested in slalom, supported us (typically young, poorly paid apprentices) in many ways, including lending us his family vehicle to get to events, etc.  He, together with his wife Sheila, not only radically changed the lives of us earlier paddlers, but established the club which has traceable links right the way through to the present-day Halifax Canoe Club.


For many years (dates unknown) the club Was based at Copley, holding slaloms there by the rugby club, before moving to Sowerby Bridge

Sowerby Bridge WW Course Development – 1985

In 1985 the club moved to its present site in the centre of Sowerby Bridge. Several hundred tons of rock were placed in the River Calder to form a section of white water supported by funding from West Yorkshire County Council.

This project was achieved through funding by West Yorkshire County Council and was designed by Dr. George Parr, who designed the course at Holme Pierrepont.

At that time the site was derelict and the club used various parts  or the building over the years for boat storage.

The photo’s below show work going on to develop the white water course and the derelict mill buildings at the time (click on the thumbnails for a larger image).

The white water course was officially opened in 1985 with a major open slalom event attended by most of the British team at that time and won By Russ Smith and Sue Marriott.  The photo’s below show the open event in full swing (click on the thumbnails for a larger image).

Many thanks to Rob Soothill for sending the pictures of building the course and the opening event.

A New Club House 1997

The plans to refurbish the mill buildings into flats brought the opportunity for the development of a proper club house.   In 1997 we secured grant aid of around £50,000 from the Foundation for Sport and the Arts which enabled us to purchase and fit out a clubhouse on the site. The photo’s below show work ongoing in the mill area and fitting out the boat storage area (click on the thumbnails for a larger image).

WW Course Rebuilding – 2007

As you can imagine the white water course has taken a battering over the years from successive floods – just compare the photographs from the open with how things look now!  Work has been done to rebuild it several times over the years. This involves some paperwork to get approval from the Environment Agency to do the work and several days with a digger in the rivers shifting the sizeable rocks around to put them back and stablise  them. The last time that the digger was brought in was in 2007.  Shortly after a summer flood stripped away much of the small material that formed the back before it had had chance to grass over. Since then despite subsequent record floods the course has remained relatively stable.

The best canoe club in the country -2011

The whole club was very proud in 2011 when Canoe England (as it was then) recognised us as their Canoe Club of the Year (confirming what we’d known for years).

Record Floods – 2012

Twice in recent years the river has flooded to the extent that water has backed up in the Mill area and flooded the club changing rooms.  On 22 June 2012 the monitoring Gauge just above the club recorded a record level on 2.43m (when water is level with the top of the weir it reads 0.1 – 0.15m) which saw water up to the top of the arches on county bridge!!

Changing rooms Refurbishments – 2003 & 2015

After the original development of the club, the facilities served us well for many years. However in the summer of 2003 the floor in the gents showers fell through! This lead to the discovery that the suspended floor was rotten throughout. As a result members rallied round for many months of DIY to reconfigure and refit the gents changing rooms, moving the showers and toilet to there current position, and making the changing much more resilient to the wet.  And a good thing too as record river levels have flooded the gents changing rooms twice since then (the most recently flood saw water levels peaking just below the top of the steps into the ladies!!)

The ladies changing rooms faired much better, only needing a lick of paint and replacement shower over the years.

In October 2014 the club secured funding from Sport England’s Inspired Facilities Fund to refurbish our changing rooms was completed in May 2015.

New Record Floods – Boxing Day 2016

A huge flood event that affected mant people along the Calder valley. After 24hrs of very heavy rain the river peaked at 3.5 on the Sowerby Bridge Gauge – water came over the road bridge! Water came over the floodwall! Water was 2m deep in the changing rooms!

The photos showing high river levels were before the peak and before the Police closed the road bridge. Huge amounts of debris was left in the trees and a think layer of smelly mud covered the yards and in all the buildings.  A large number of club members arrived the next morning to clean up – many helping our neighbours to clear ruined posessions out of all the ground floor flat