When Wednesday regattas became tradition

Jack Fitzgerald
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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

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.

Organizations: Regatta Committee, Fisheries Department

Geographic location: St. John's, United States, Signal Hill Cabot Tower

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Recent comments

  • Tim
    July 02, 2010 - 13:35

    With a city election this year maybe they can add this question to the ballot? My guess would be that a mass majority would vote to move it.

  • David
    July 02, 2010 - 13:35

    Change it to Friday. A lot of business operate on appointments and a floating holiday just doesn't work which is why thye taking Wednesday as the holiday regardless.

  • Ted
    July 02, 2010 - 13:34

    I agree entirely with Robert Power's comments. Time to get way from this Wednesday nonsense and schedule for a Friday. That way, if it is weather delayed, then they still have Saturday and Sunday to avail of. As it stands right now, many people have to take the Wednesday as a holiday regardless. Thus, if it goes ahead on Thursday, they would not be able to attend anyway. Where's the sense in that?

    Furthermore, the argument that everyone in St. John's goes to a cabin on the weekend is also nonsense. Contrary to popular belief, not everyone who lives in St. John's owns a cabin. If that were the case, then retailers would feel the pinch every weekend, which I can assure you, they do not, I know a lot of people, and none of them own, or go to a cabin on the weekend. Its only the transplanted baymen that partake in that sort of thing (kidding). Where's the great Einstien? Perhaps he can shed some of his alleged 4.0 GPA wisdom on this debate?

  • CB
    July 02, 2010 - 13:31

    Dave, attitudes like yours is the reason I'm glad I get to scurry outside the city limits at the end of the day. Maybe you could write a letter to Dicky Shea, see if he'd consider resettling all us Baymen into the big city.

  • Einstein
    July 02, 2010 - 13:29

    I find it hilarious that people take digs at me by mentioning how intelligent I am. Is it against the law to have a brain nowadays?

    Oh well, at least I know I have fans out in internet land....

    ...My opinion on this story? They should move the regatta to Friday of the George Street Festival weekend. It would be better for tourism, employers and employees. Then you have three solid days that you could have the regatta if the weather was being fussy. Plus, then people would be able to go out and enjoy the Thursday night festivities with the rest of the people who don't have jobs. But there are too many people like Ted M, Telling it like it is, and Smart Mouth living in St. John's to do things the intelligent way. Apparently intelligence is frowned upon nowadays.

  • bayman
    July 02, 2010 - 13:26

    The time has come to move the regatta into the 21 century. First, it's time to send the old folks on the regatta committee packing, on your way out, stop at city hall to pick up Shannie and friends. This event should happen on a Wednesday with no wind, using a horse and buggy from 1936 with hard fixed seats.

  • T
    July 02, 2010 - 13:25

    I disagree, keep the tradition and leave it on the first Wednesday, weather permitting. Regatta day doesn't have to become just another long weekend, so people can go to their cabins. It's unique the way it is, and we should keep it that way.

  • Robert
    July 02, 2010 - 13:24

    Psst - regatta committee - there's been some great new inventions since you set Wednesday as the date of the regatta - the telephone, cars, and even airplanes. Holding the event on a Wednesday is hurting your business and that of others that have to deal with the world outside of the bubble of St. John's. Here's a suggestion; If tourism is a consideration, hold the races in conjuction with the George Street festival, make it a week long event and people will plan their vacations around it!

  • Ken
    July 02, 2010 - 13:23

    Dave from St. John's

    I live in Paradise work in Logy Bay and make lots of pot holes in St. John's on the way through that you have to pay for. A great arguement for amalgamation isnt by'e.

  • Funky
    July 02, 2010 - 13:19

    I live in St. John's, I don't have a cabin or spend a lot of time camping. I also don't really enjoy the regatta. But I do enjoy having a long weekend. This business of holding people hostage for their holiday is ridiculous. Tradition samadition. Traditions change. Why hold onto a tradition which really makes no sense? Holding onto a tradition for the sake of holding onto it is ridiculous. There is no practical reason to go through this nonsense every year, other then....tradtion.

  • Funky
    July 02, 2010 - 13:18

    I live in St. John's, I don't have a cabin or spend a lot of time camping. I also don't really enjoy the regatta. But I do enjoy having a long weekend. This business of holding people hostage for their holiday is ridiculous. Tradition samadition. Traditions change. Why hold onto a tradition which really makes no sense? Holding onto a tradition for the sake of holding onto it is ridiculous. There is no practical reason to go through this nonsense every year, other then....tradtion.

  • Dave
    July 02, 2010 - 13:18

    Ken from Paradise,

    Since you live in Paradise, why would you care when St. John's holds a municipal holiday? Unless of course you're one of the freeloaders who works here but scurries back outside city limits at the end of the day so you don't have to pay taxes on the infrastructure that gives you a job in the first place.

  • townie
    July 02, 2010 - 13:15

    who has the authority to make the change on the civic holiday? is it the municipal or provincial government? just curious because I would like to be sure to voice my concerns to the appropriate folks but for now this blog will do. as one put it best we are being held hostage by the old boys club . if it was moved to a friday or a monday what's the difference. people will go to their cabins? so rather than give people- who work long and hard all year for their civic holiday a long weekend and go do what they, to their cabin for example, the powers to be think it better to force them into a weekday holiday in hopes they will go down to the lake.

  • kitty
    July 02, 2010 - 13:12

    To all of you above. There is enough of you complaining to put two teams togehter for the Regatta, then everyone wins. I will even be your coxswain.

  • r
    July 02, 2010 - 13:11

    Oh the regatta, is it a tradition or becoming a headache, i didn't realize that some companies will close on wednesday regardless if it went ahead or not. How can you close on wednesday anyway if it's cancelled then wednesday is no longer regatta day, when it come to making it a long weekend I look forward to the mid week break

  • Mike
    July 02, 2010 - 13:11

    It's time to put an end to Regatta Roulette. It creates havoc for those who get the holiday on whatever day the regatta goes ahead. You can't plan anything around it, whether it be work or time off. Let's schedule the Regatta for Friday and make that the holiday. If the weather is poor on Friday, you still have Saturday and Sunday to work with. Ken;s idea of a Monday holiday works for me too.I know lots of people have issue with this ... tradition, blah, blah, blah! A lot of employers are now setting the holiday regardless of when the regatta happens and I'm sure many more will follow. Time for a change people!

  • Ken
    July 02, 2010 - 13:11

    Time for permanent change to the regretta The first weekend of August with monday as the holiday regradless of the wind. Saturday, Sunday and Monday to hold your races while the rest of us can enjoy another long weekend instead of being held hostage to Wednesday's weather forecast.

  • CrnrBoy
    July 02, 2010 - 13:08

    The Regatta is not what it once was. I remember a fun time for the whole family to spend the day at the Regatta. It has become more of a commercial pan handling that causes parents to empty their wallets on gambling and stuffed animal prizes for the kids. Maybe we should change the Regatta day holiday to a more family friendly event like picnic in the park . At least then people can enjoy the day and not have to get up and listen to Radio to see if they have to work or not. This civic holiday needs a drastic makeover as most people do not partake in the Races or want the Regatta Pan Handlers screaming for their money...50/50 anyone?

  • Tim
    July 01, 2010 - 20:25

    With a city election this year maybe they can add this question to the ballot? My guess would be that a mass majority would vote to move it.

  • David
    July 01, 2010 - 20:25

    Change it to Friday. A lot of business operate on appointments and a floating holiday just doesn't work which is why thye taking Wednesday as the holiday regardless.

  • Ted
    July 01, 2010 - 20:24

    I agree entirely with Robert Power's comments. Time to get way from this Wednesday nonsense and schedule for a Friday. That way, if it is weather delayed, then they still have Saturday and Sunday to avail of. As it stands right now, many people have to take the Wednesday as a holiday regardless. Thus, if it goes ahead on Thursday, they would not be able to attend anyway. Where's the sense in that?

    Furthermore, the argument that everyone in St. John's goes to a cabin on the weekend is also nonsense. Contrary to popular belief, not everyone who lives in St. John's owns a cabin. If that were the case, then retailers would feel the pinch every weekend, which I can assure you, they do not, I know a lot of people, and none of them own, or go to a cabin on the weekend. Its only the transplanted baymen that partake in that sort of thing (kidding). Where's the great Einstien? Perhaps he can shed some of his alleged 4.0 GPA wisdom on this debate?

  • CB
    July 01, 2010 - 20:19

    Dave, attitudes like yours is the reason I'm glad I get to scurry outside the city limits at the end of the day. Maybe you could write a letter to Dicky Shea, see if he'd consider resettling all us Baymen into the big city.

  • Einstein
    July 01, 2010 - 20:17

    I find it hilarious that people take digs at me by mentioning how intelligent I am. Is it against the law to have a brain nowadays?

    Oh well, at least I know I have fans out in internet land....

    ...My opinion on this story? They should move the regatta to Friday of the George Street Festival weekend. It would be better for tourism, employers and employees. Then you have three solid days that you could have the regatta if the weather was being fussy. Plus, then people would be able to go out and enjoy the Thursday night festivities with the rest of the people who don't have jobs. But there are too many people like Ted M, Telling it like it is, and Smart Mouth living in St. John's to do things the intelligent way. Apparently intelligence is frowned upon nowadays.

  • bayman
    July 01, 2010 - 20:13

    The time has come to move the regatta into the 21 century. First, it's time to send the old folks on the regatta committee packing, on your way out, stop at city hall to pick up Shannie and friends. This event should happen on a Wednesday with no wind, using a horse and buggy from 1936 with hard fixed seats.

  • T
    July 01, 2010 - 20:11

    I disagree, keep the tradition and leave it on the first Wednesday, weather permitting. Regatta day doesn't have to become just another long weekend, so people can go to their cabins. It's unique the way it is, and we should keep it that way.

  • Robert
    July 01, 2010 - 20:10

    Psst - regatta committee - there's been some great new inventions since you set Wednesday as the date of the regatta - the telephone, cars, and even airplanes. Holding the event on a Wednesday is hurting your business and that of others that have to deal with the world outside of the bubble of St. John's. Here's a suggestion; If tourism is a consideration, hold the races in conjuction with the George Street festival, make it a week long event and people will plan their vacations around it!

  • Ken
    July 01, 2010 - 20:08

    Dave from St. John's

    I live in Paradise work in Logy Bay and make lots of pot holes in St. John's on the way through that you have to pay for. A great arguement for amalgamation isnt by'e.

  • Funky
    July 01, 2010 - 20:00

    I live in St. John's, I don't have a cabin or spend a lot of time camping. I also don't really enjoy the regatta. But I do enjoy having a long weekend. This business of holding people hostage for their holiday is ridiculous. Tradition samadition. Traditions change. Why hold onto a tradition which really makes no sense? Holding onto a tradition for the sake of holding onto it is ridiculous. There is no practical reason to go through this nonsense every year, other then....tradtion.

  • Funky
    July 01, 2010 - 19:59

    I live in St. John's, I don't have a cabin or spend a lot of time camping. I also don't really enjoy the regatta. But I do enjoy having a long weekend. This business of holding people hostage for their holiday is ridiculous. Tradition samadition. Traditions change. Why hold onto a tradition which really makes no sense? Holding onto a tradition for the sake of holding onto it is ridiculous. There is no practical reason to go through this nonsense every year, other then....tradtion.

  • Dave
    July 01, 2010 - 19:59

    Ken from Paradise,

    Since you live in Paradise, why would you care when St. John's holds a municipal holiday? Unless of course you're one of the freeloaders who works here but scurries back outside city limits at the end of the day so you don't have to pay taxes on the infrastructure that gives you a job in the first place.

  • townie
    July 01, 2010 - 19:55

    who has the authority to make the change on the civic holiday? is it the municipal or provincial government? just curious because I would like to be sure to voice my concerns to the appropriate folks but for now this blog will do. as one put it best we are being held hostage by the old boys club . if it was moved to a friday or a monday what's the difference. people will go to their cabins? so rather than give people- who work long and hard all year for their civic holiday a long weekend and go do what they, to their cabin for example, the powers to be think it better to force them into a weekday holiday in hopes they will go down to the lake.

  • kitty
    July 01, 2010 - 19:50

    To all of you above. There is enough of you complaining to put two teams togehter for the Regatta, then everyone wins. I will even be your coxswain.

  • r
    July 01, 2010 - 19:48

    Oh the regatta, is it a tradition or becoming a headache, i didn't realize that some companies will close on wednesday regardless if it went ahead or not. How can you close on wednesday anyway if it's cancelled then wednesday is no longer regatta day, when it come to making it a long weekend I look forward to the mid week break

  • Mike
    July 01, 2010 - 19:47

    It's time to put an end to Regatta Roulette. It creates havoc for those who get the holiday on whatever day the regatta goes ahead. You can't plan anything around it, whether it be work or time off. Let's schedule the Regatta for Friday and make that the holiday. If the weather is poor on Friday, you still have Saturday and Sunday to work with. Ken;s idea of a Monday holiday works for me too.I know lots of people have issue with this ... tradition, blah, blah, blah! A lot of employers are now setting the holiday regardless of when the regatta happens and I'm sure many more will follow. Time for a change people!

  • Ken
    July 01, 2010 - 19:47

    Time for permanent change to the regretta The first weekend of August with monday as the holiday regradless of the wind. Saturday, Sunday and Monday to hold your races while the rest of us can enjoy another long weekend instead of being held hostage to Wednesday's weather forecast.

  • CrnrBoy
    July 01, 2010 - 19:43

    The Regatta is not what it once was. I remember a fun time for the whole family to spend the day at the Regatta. It has become more of a commercial pan handling that causes parents to empty their wallets on gambling and stuffed animal prizes for the kids. Maybe we should change the Regatta day holiday to a more family friendly event like picnic in the park . At least then people can enjoy the day and not have to get up and listen to Radio to see if they have to work or not. This civic holiday needs a drastic makeover as most people do not partake in the Races or want the Regatta Pan Handlers screaming for their money...50/50 anyone?