July 27, 1881
The St. John’s Regatta, the oldest continuous sporting event in North America, it has since 1818 been an important date on the holiday calendar in Newfoundland. In the 1880’s the “the day of the Races” was considered by many our “National Holiday.”
An editorial in the St. John’s newspaper, the Evening Telegram in July 1881 stated:
“ … we have come to regard “the day of the Races” as our National Holiday, and it is highly expedient, in the general interest that, in fixing on a particular day for these annual aquatic “sports and pastimes, …”
The editorialist wrote that “Regatta Day” should be a holiday for the laboring people:
“… because the Regatta is above all, “the poor man’s holiday.” When “the people” go out to take their pleasure in the green fields and by the grassy lake of Quidi Vidi, it is expedient that all “the people” should be able to be there.”
The plea to have the Regatta as a National Holiday of the colony of Newfoundland never became a reality but in the hearts and minds of the residents of St. John’s it is the most significant holiday.
There is little doubt that the Regatta was “the poor man’s holiday” all of the crews were made up of the men from the working classes, the vast majority fishermen. At lakeside special ‘aquatic tents’ were reserved for the merchant classes, where they retired for refreshments.
In 1897, Sir Herbert Harley Murray, the Colonial Governor of Newfoundland refused to attend the Regatta stating that the “best” people were not patronizing the event. The son of an Anglican bishop it is likely that Murray was not happy with the boozing by the “operative and laboring classes ….taking their pleasure in the green fields and by the grassy lake of Quidi Vidi.” He was also not amused that during the Regatta the previous year no one stepped forward to hold an umbrella for his daughter during a rain shower. Not even the gentlemen of the town lived up to his standard of the “best” people.
See you at Quidi Vidi with the other laboring classes!! I may be in the modern day version of the ‘aquatic tents”.
Recommended Archival Collection: At the Rooms Provincial Archives Division take some time to look at “The Rowing” 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. Search the Archives: https://www.therooms.ca/collections-research/our-collections
Recommended Web Site: The Royal St. John’s Regatta: http://regatta.nlpl.ca/php/home.php
Recommended tune (Listen): http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BNVQdwzMKpA