St. John’s “frolicked” at the Regatta while the Empire was going to War.

Archival Moment

August 6, 1914

The Royal St. John's Regatta

The Royal St. John’s Regatta

The Annual St. John’s Regatta, now known as the Royal St. John’s Regatta, this year celebrates its 198th running at Quidi Vidi Lake. One hundred years ago, on August 5, 1914 the local newspapers reported that the event was “attended by the usual large gatherings’ but there were some who were not amused that the Regatta was going ahead as usual.


The Evening Telegram, the St. John’s daily newspaper reported:

“Though the energies of the Regatta Committee did not flag, there seemed to be a lack of enthusiasm on the part of the spectators, part of which may be attributed to the war and part to the absence of the brigade, press and football races, which had been such an attracted in recent years.”

In Newfoundland just three days previous to the running of the Regatta (August 2, 1914) the rumors and talk of war had become a reality; the reservists of Royal Naval Reserve were called for active duty. Posters were placed throughout St. John’s notifying Newfoundland reservists to report to the Calypso as quickly as possible. Another vessel, the S.S. Kyle was dispatched to pick up reservists in various outport locations on the way south from the Labrador fishery. Notification was made to outport Magistrates that reservists are to report immediately to St. John’s. Some reservists had to walk fifty or sixty miles to the nearest steamer or railway station to catch their ride to St. John’s.

The evening before the Regatta at exactly 9:25 p.m., August 4, 1914, Newfoundland Time, a telegram was received by Governor Davidson at Government House in St. John’s, advising him that Great Britain had declared war on Germany, and that Newfoundland was thus at war.

Travelling with the naval reservists, trying to make their way into St. John’s to report for duty on the training vessell  S.S. Calypso,  were hundreds of men and women, travelling to St. John’s for the Regatta.

The day following the Regatta (August 6th, 1914) William Coaker, the founder of the Fishermen’s Protective Union and future cabinet Minister in the war-time National Government, composed of all political parties expressed his displeasure about how shameful it was that St. John’s “frolicked” at the Regatta while the Empire prepared for war.

The 1914 declaration of war in Europe cast a dark cloud over future regattas. It was decided that during times of war there would be no Regatta held, as many of Newfoundland’s fine young men would be attached to British combat units, dying for King and Country. It did not feel like a time of celebration for the citizens of Newfoundland. Between 1915 and 1918, no Regatta was held.

Shortly after the 1914 Regatta, the call for volunteers went out to the men of Newfoundland. Where the shores of Quidi Vidi Lake just one month previous held people watching the races, by September it held the canvas tents of the now famous First Five Hundred of the First Newfoundland Regiment (later renamed the Royal Newfoundland Regiment in honour of the acts of bravery displayed by Newfoundland soldiers).

The traditional song of the Regatta, “The Banks of Newfoundland” (written by Chief Justice Sir Francis Forbes in 1820), was adopted by the Regiment at this time to serve as its Regimental March. It was later adopted as the Regatta theme and came to be known as “Up the Pond”.

Recommended Archival Collection: At the Rooms Provincial Archives Division take some time to look at “The Rowing” a series which consists of 212 b&w photographs predominantly of the Royal St. John’s Regatta races and crews, The photographs include team portraits, races underway, presentation of awards and views of the people along the shore of Quidi Vidi Lake.

Recommended Exhibit: Pleasantville: From Recreation to Military Installation. Level 2 Atrium Pleasantville before the First World War was the site of the St. John’s cricket grounds. With the declaration of war, Pleasantville quickly emerged as a tent city, the home of the storied “First 500”. It was here that the First Newfoundland Regiment recruits began preliminary military training during the months of September and October of 1914. This exhibition highlights some of the activities and training of the Blue Puttees up to their embarkation on the SS Florizel for overseas service.

Recommended Museum: Special tours and visitation to the Royal Regatta Museum are available upon request. If you wish to make a special appointment to visit the Museum, please call the Boathouse at: (709) 576 – 8921.

Recommended Web Site: The Royal St. John’s Regatta:

Recommended tune ( Listen): The Banks of Newfoundland: