Up the pond, before the crowds

Setting up for annual rowing event no small task

Published on August 6, 2014

Regatta-goers, in the tens of thousands, will attempt to beat the odds today, as they vie for giant plush pandas and ultimate bragging rights.

But for the people behind the booths, Regatta day isn’t all ice cream and ticket stubs. I walked around the lake the afternoon before the infamous Wednesday to speak with some Regatta veterans.

At the top of the lake William and Vanessa Burry are setting up game booths for NL Midway, formerly Angel Amusements. The midway has been been coming to the Regatta for 22 years.

“This is our biggest event. We do it because we like it. And the money is good, of course,” said co-owner Vanessa Burry.

Vanessa and her husband William own a cotton candy concession stand, seven games and six rides, which includes the big slide and the mini Ferris wheel.

“We started with a little french fry van, then I bought a little game, then I bought a little bouncy castle, and I worked my way up,” said William.

Throughout the summer, the midway travels all over Newfoundland and Labrador from their home base in Corner Brook, setting up in dozens of towns between July and September. Last year, they even went to Goose Bay.

“It’s crazy, it’s different. It’s like a gypsy lifestyle. You’re just bouncing around from town to town meeting different people,” said William.

“That’s how he got a wife!” chimed in Vanessa, who met William while the midway was in her hometown.

While always exciting, the lifestyle can certainly be a challenge.

“It’s trying at times,” said Vanessa. “There’s some days when it’s really good and fun, and there’s some days when it’s like, if someone came along with money they can take it and go.”

It takes six trucks and a crew of 12 to move everything across the island. The Regatta is by far their busiest and most difficult event.

“I always say, if we can get through Regatta then we’re fine. It’s a lot of work for one day,” said Vanessa.

The crew started setting up Monday night and will be working until Tuesday at midnight, before coming back this morning for an 8 a.m. start. The Frog Bog—the game where you hit the frogs with hammers — is surprisingly one of their most labour and time-intensive units to put together. For this reason, the Regatta is its only time to shine.

Up the pond, near the bandstand, seven or eight men hammer and drill a large booth with a sign reading “Anchormen Barbershop Chorus.” There is a sense of joviality and as the men build the stand; they laugh and joke and occasionally stop for a cookie.

The Anchormen Barbershop Chorus’ wheel spin has been a staple of the Regatta for the last 37 years. With a selection of plush toys to be won, the group uses the Regatta to raise money for charities such as the Janeway, the School for the Deaf and the Children’s Wish Foundation.

“Anything with kids, we like to support. We sing that they shall speak,” said longtime chorus member Cal Squires.

Squires has been with the chorus for 55 years. He’s been volunteering at their Regatta booth since its inception.

“I like the atmosphere, the people, the races, the concessions, even though they’ve dropped off over the last few years. Everything that’s associated with the Regatta, I love it,” he said.

“It hasn’t changed much to me. Since 1976 it’s pretty well generally the same. But I know of years ago when they had the greasy pole and the pigs and all that kind of thing. That must have been amazing.”

The chorus’ booth is in a prime location — right in the middle of the busiest side of the pond. But president Harry Wells says the group had to work three decades for this spot.

When they started at the Regatta they were by the penitentiary. They then moved to the far end of the lake, before slowly working their way up to where they are now. Seniority goes a long way when it comes to Regatta real estate.

The location they have now costs the group $575—not including their permit and licence. It is priced at $24 per square foot, taxes out.

“Years ago it wasn’t as restrictive as it is now. People used to come down and it used to cost them about $50 to $100 to set up a spot,” said Wells.

Usually, the investment pays off.

Wells says in a good year the stand will bring in a few thousand dollars — but not every year is good.

“One year we came down and took in $78. It was a poor year, weather wise.”

As they were setting up, the group stopped to spontaneously break into song for me.

“Let me call you sweetheart, I’m in love with you” … — a fitting serenade to a 37-year Regatta love affair.