I’m all for tradition, but if I had my way, tomorrow would be Regatta Day.
This watching the weather to see if it’s a holiday in St.John’s on the first Wednesday in August is, well, awkward. Why not move the holiday to a designated Monday and run the races on the weekend?
I know this has been argued pro and con before. It seems to come up whenever the weather forces a postponement by even a day. I think it’s worth considering again.
I’ve never rowed, but family members have given the pond a go. My great-great-grandfather coxed the historic Outer Cove crew in 1901. My personal Regatta experience has been broadcasting the event one year, running a goods wheel for several, and dropping hundreds of dollars over a lifetime on spins, food and fun. To be blunt, I’m no Regatta expert.
A lot has happened since organizers decided on the first Wednesday in August. Jack Fitzgerald, who has penned three books on the Regatta, tells me some of the events long ago were actually held on other days of the week.
Other days tested
His research, cited in his books “Up the Pond” and “A Day at the Races,” indicates it was 1929 when the Regatta committee moved it decidedly to the first Wednesday in August. They had experimented with Thursday and even tried the second Wednesday, but ultimately settled on where it is today.
These days, we start watching the forecast a week in advance, and then, Wednesday morning, we await the official word.
When I worked in a radio newsroom, we’d have two versions of the story ready to go. One would read, “It’s green and go for the Royal St.John’s Regatta.” The other: “We’ll have to wait at least another day for the races.”
More often than not, the Regatta went ahead. The words from the captain of the course, the Regatta committee president, and for much of my memory, George MacLaren live from the boathouse, set the mood for the day.
Either there were smiles everywhere or our hearts fell as we heard it would be a normal work day and we’d have to do it all again on Thursday. Moving the day at the pond to Saturday solves some of that. Many would be less reliant on the holiday announcement.
The Monday to Friday people would be off anyway, and more of those outside St. John’s might come to town for the event. If Saturday is wet and windy, there is still Sunday; and if those two days are poor, Monday, the new stat holiday, would be the day we’d hear Up the Pond. Those who don’t want to take in the Regatta, still get a long weekend. The all-important crews get as good a weather shot as now.
Jack Fitzgerald’s research shows Wednesday became the best choice because it was the slowest day for business for the merchants. That may also be the case today. Still, the Monday holiday would be more in keeping with what happens for Labour Day and Victoria Day. It would also make more sense for those companies who do business daily with the mainland. The first Monday in August is already a holiday in most provinces.
Moving the holiday to Monday might also make the week of the Regatta more productive. It is difficult to schedule a week of business with a day in the middle that may or may not be a holiday. The Regatta parties actually begin Tuesday night, Regatta or no, and Thursday is like the Tuesday after a long weekend.
In recent years, the Regatta seems to have secured a sandwiched place between the George Street Festival and the Folk Festival, so even suggesting it be moved to a weekend will bring on those who insist if it isn’t broke, why fix it?
Fifty thousand people at lakeside in recent years can’t mean anything but success. I just wonder if it can be even better.
Gerry Phelan is a journalist and former broadcaster. He can be reached at