As you crunch the gravel around Quidi Vidi Lake and hear the gun blast to start the next race, you’ll no doubt spot someone selling tickets to support their favourite cause at the Royal St. John’s Regatta.
With the 2020 Regatta cancelled — the first time the races have been cancelled since the Second World War — charities and non-profit organizations will miss out on one of the biggest fundraising days of the year.
Up to 50,000 people come to Quidi Vidi Lake to take in the day, with money in their pockets for food, family fun and fundraising.
Brad Power, chair of the Royal St. John’s Regatta committee, says the economic activity generated by the oldest sporting event in North America will be sorely missed by those who need it most.
“On an historical basis, there’s close on 500-600 vendors, for sure. When you count individuals who are walking around selling things or those little ice cone setups — there’s six or seven of those — we get up into probably about 1,000 organizations that are impacted by this,” he said.
“If you look at the charities, non-profits, our partners like Quidi Vidi Brewery and others, everyone is going to take a hit from this. We can’t blame this on anything other than the pandemic.”
Power says the Regatta committee is well aware of the impact on the community outside of the fans around the lake.
“Some of these groups would make $10,000 and $15,000 in a day and that sometimes was their biggest fundraiser,” he said.
“They look at the Regatta as their one great opportunity to have a huge audience and to make some quick money for their groups. They will all suffer as a result, there’s no doubt.’
Sam Wells, past-president of the St. John’s Lions Club, says the club hasn’t missed a Regatta since its inception in 1949. Fundraising efforts at the Regatta could mean anywhere between $3,000 and $10,000 a year — up to 20 per cent of the total fundraising revenue taken in by the St. John’s Lions Club, Wells said.
“It’s a big chunk,”’ he said.
Wells says the COVID-19 pandemic is restricting just about everything the group does, and bills for heating and maintenance for the buildings they manage continue to roll in.
“We’re going to have to come up with innovative ways to make money these days. It’s going to be much more difficult to do the things we generally do. Tickets are pretty well a goner, for now anyway. We are involved in the VOCM bingo, which has been shut down since this thing came in,” he said.
“Generally, it’s going to affect everyone. We’re going to have to cut back or come up with different ideas to raise funds.”
The Lions Club donates thousands of dollars a year to other organizations. The board of directors of the St. Johns Lions Club hasn’t been able to meet and settle any plans due to the COVID-19 restrictions, but it's likely those donations could see cuts, Wells says.
“Some will be cancelled, unfortunately. We’ll try to maintain ones like our cadets squads and the things we do for the Janeway and Health Sciences Centre. Those kinds of things, we would try to keep them going,” he said.
The St. John’s chapter isn’t alone.
“There’s eight or nine, I think, that are there every year. So, it’s a big impact on not only our Lions Club but a lot of Lions clubs in the vicinity,” said Wells.
Samantha Parrell, manager of fund development and communications with Easter Seals NL, says the charity usually sees between $2,000 and $5,000 each time it takes part in Regatta Day activities. But she says there are benefits to being lakeside on a sunny, summer day you can’t put a price on.
“I think the biggest part about the Regatta for us is the awareness piece. A lot of people don’t know who we are and what we do. We provide over 20 programs and services to persons with disabilities, and over the last couple of years we’ve expanded our mandate. Where we only used to service children with physical disabilities, now we serve all ages with all disabilities,” Parrell said.
“Not being there, not seeing thousands of people come to visit our booth, get to know who we are, and also to donate towards our programs, this entire pandemic has had an effect on our revenue. This is just another event that, unfortunately, has been cancelled for us.”
Easter Seals has already had to cancel summer camps, but hopes to offer online services as much as possible in the near future.
Power says with the 2020 Regatta a no-go, the focus now turns to 2021. Inevitably, he says it will be a different Regatta, regardless of how much of the public health measures remain in place.
“The way we operate the Regatta moving forward will change. There’s no doubt. Just like everything we do as a society will change,” he said.
“Maybe the vendors have to be spaced out by ten feet each, maybe there’s a limit of the number of vendors we can put down, maybe there’s a shift for the public that we recommend seniors in the morning, families in the afternoon,” he said.
“There’s any level of possibility. We have to think through all that.”