The Royal St. John's Regatta
By Mark Crossan, MA Student, Religious Studies Department
The Royal St. John's Regatta is an annual one-day event that has taken place for nearly 200 years. Dubbed the "oldest sporting event" in North America, the Regatta has evolved into more than just a competitive rowing competition. While the races are still the focal point of this civic holiday, concession stands surround Quidi Vidi Lake offering something for all ages. Games, rides, music, a wide variety of foods and drinks, and of course the Regatta races themselves, draw tens of thousands of people to flock to the lake for this unique tradition.
The first official Regatta took place 194 years ago, on August 12, 1816. Over a period of three days local owners of various boats would compete for bragging rights as well as small monetary rewards. Originally sailing races would take place at the St. John's harbor while rowing races were reserved for Quidi Vidi Lake. Over the years, sailing races would be phased out and the focus would shift to the rowers.
The date of the holiday is unique. While scheduled for the first Wednesday in August, the holiday is not officially underway until acceptable weather conditions have been confirmed. Rain and high winds make the waters unsuitable and therefore delay the holiday until the next day (or until the weather is deemed tolerable).
August 4th, 2010 marked the 194th year of The Royal St. John's Regatta. This year 18 races were scheduled to take place and 165 concession stands surrounded the lake. Upwards of 50,000 of people are believed to have participated in the holiday, making it "The Largest Garden Party in the World".
The stands themselves are typical of what one would expect from a local fair or county exhibition. The majority focused on games (of varying skill and chance), foods (from local cuisine such as Fish & Chips to the more standard hotdogs and cotton candy) and rides (from an acrobatic trampoline ride to a drunken driver simulation). Some of the concession stands were independently operated, while others were sponsored by local and national businesses.
Some religious communities were also represented through the concession stands. The Bethesda Pentecostal Church had a large display offering free face painting, coloring contests and draws for prizes. Through song and dance the church shared their beliefs while encouraging children to join in on the fun. Likewise, St. Joseph's Parish of Petty Harbour also had a stand that offered a fishing game that guaranteed the kids a prize every time they participated.
Perhaps the best known, and easily one of the more popular stands was the Hindu Temple Food Stall. Occupying the same spot for 25 years, the Hindu Temple offered delicious cuisine. Long lines suggested that this stand was a favorite among many; some even going as far as suggesting it is the sole reason they return to the Regatta year after year. It is important to note that many of the concession stands, whether they represent businesses or community, cultural, or religious groups, raise funds for charities of all kinds.
The Royal St. John's Regatta is a unique hodgepodge of competitive sport, county fair, and civic holiday. It is a day in which the city (weather permitting) comes together and celebrates a tradition going back nearly 200 years. The races themselves may be eclipsed by the fair-like atmosphere but that is not to say they go unnoticed; they simply blend in with the rest of the excitement surrounding the lake.
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