Prior to 1931, dates for holding Regatta Day varied as to day, week and month
Regatta crews took advantage of near perfect pond conditions on Quidi Vidi for some last-minute practice runs Tuesday evening as they prepare for the running of the Royal St. Johns Regatta Wednesday, weather permitting of course. Photo by Keith Gosse/The Telegram
The St. John's Regatta Committee did not settle on the first Wednesday of August as the permanently scheduled date for the St. John's Regatta until 1931, and the tradition has been fiercely defended since that date.
Prior to 1931, dates for the holding of Regatta Day varied as to day, week and month. The variation was spread over the period between July 23 to September 26.
A decision to adopt a permanent annual date for the regatta was made in the days prior to the 1929 regatta when the motion to set the first Wednesday of August as the annual Regatta Day was passed by the committee. This came about after the committee had experimented with a Thursday regatta.
In 1926, the committee adopted the first Thursday of August as Regatta Day. This decision was prompted by efforts to attract visitors and tourists from abroad to the regatta. The port of St. John's was busy with passenger ships going to and from the United States and Canadian ports. In the 1920s, these would arrive in port early Thursday mornings, a day late for the regatta.
By changing Regatta Day to Thursday, the committee felt the passengers would have plenty of time disembark and to make it to the regatta. On Regatta Day 1926, several ships arrived carrying almost 2,000 passengers, mostly former Newfoundlanders returning home for a vacation.
However, the change from Wednesday to Thursday presented some immediate problems.
After three years of Thursday regattas, merchants complained that having the regatta on a Thursday was creating a major problem for them when the ships arrived in port. They were unable to get longshore workers to unload the boats because it was a holiday and workers were gone to the races. The merchants expected that enough men would turn up to do the work, but that did not happen.
This situation caused the committee, in 1929, to rule that from that date, the first Wednesday in August of each year would become the scheduled date for all future regattas.
Not so smooth
Things did not go as smoothly as the committee expected. The go-ahead was given followed by a postponement an hour later. This was too late to stop workers from leaving their work stations and thousands were already showing up at Quidi Vidi. Merchants, using a megaphone, announced to the crowd at lakeside that the stores would re-open immediately and workers should return to their jobs. They were forced to allow the holiday to stand when workers ignored the back to work request.
The following summer, 1930, the committee again changed the day for the regatta from the first Wednesday in August to the second Wednesday because it was felt the weather conditions were better at that time. To avoid a repeat of the on-again, off-again situation of 1929, stores were kept open until the go-ahead for the races was confirmed.
The committee arranged through the Fisheries Department to fire the noon day gun from Signal Hill to announce a go-ahead for the races as soon as it was confirmed by the Regatta Committee. In addition to the firing of the gun, the Cabot Tower was covered in bunting.
Uncertainty over the weather caused a delay in the committee's decision until 10:30 a.m. Along with the bunting and gun firing from Signal Hill, aviator Doug Fraser took his plane over the city with a banner trailing behind announcing that the regatta was going ahead.
In 1931, the committee returned to its 1929 decision to hold future regattas on the first Wednesday in August. On the designated day, the weather was ideal and an early go ahead was announced. The Wednesday tradition has continued since that time.