- Edward (Ned) Hanlan was born on July 12th, 1855 in Toronto, Ontario to Irish parents; one of two sons and two daughters. His mother was Mary Gibbs, his father, John, was first a fisherman and later a hotel keeper on the Toronto Islands. The Hanlan family originally lived at the east end of Toronto Island, but a severe storm in 1865 pushed their little house into the harbour. It washed ashore near the north end of Gibraltar Point, at the island’s west end. A few years later, Ned’s father built a small hotel there, and the area started becoming known as Hanlan’s Point, long before Ned became famous. Young Hanlan used to row several kilometers across the harbour to go to and from George Street public school, Toronto every day. He developed speed to bring freshly-caught fish to sell at market before other fishermen arrived to compete. By the time Hanlan was a teenager, he was competing in rowing events and he gained his first important success at the age of eighteen, when he became amateur champion of Toronto Bay. He turned professional in 1874 / 5 and soon afterwards he beat all comers at the Centennial International Exhibition at Philadelphia in 1876. In 1877 he became champion sculler of Canada, followed by Champion sculler of the United States in 1878. After further success in North America he decided to test his mettle against Europe and travelled to England in 1879 where, on 16 June 1879 he defeated the English champion, W. Elliott of Blyth, rowing the course from the Mansion House in Newcastle upon Tyne to the Scotswood Bridge on the River Tyne in the record time of 21 minutes 2 seconds. Ultimately he lost only six of his 300 races during his rowing career. He was the world sculling champion for five consecutive years from 1880-1884. Unlike his English professional rivals, he used the slide simultaneously with the swing, kept his body well back, and held his arms straight long past the perpendicular before bending them, added strength being given by the skillful use of his great leg power.
- He married on 19 December 1877 Margaret Gordon Sutherland of Pictou, Nova Scotia; they had two sons and six daughters. Following his career as an athlete, Hanlan became an hotelier like his father, and eventually became involved in municipal politics as an alderman of Toronto. He was the first head coach of the University of Toronto Rowing Club in 1897.
- In 1900, he decided to leave and coach the crew of Columbia University, New York for some years. Ned died of pneumonia at age 52. Ten thousand Torontonians thronged to pay their final respects at the church where his body lay in state.