Tag Archives: Royal St. John’s Regatta

“The poor man’s holiday.” The Regatta.

Archival Moment

 

Photo Credit: Early illustration of Regatta from Canadian Illustrated News, 1875. Regatta Museum.

Photo Credit: Early illustration of Regatta from Canadian Illustrated News, 1875. Regatta Museum.

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

ROYAL REGATTA ROULETTE

Photo Credit: The Rooms Provincial Archives Division: A54-150; Crowds at Quidi Vidi Lake for the Royal St. John’s Regatta.

ARCHIVAL MOMENT

August 2, 2016

ROYAL REGATTA ROULETTE

The Royal St. John’s Regatta is the only civic holiday in Canada that is dependent on the weather. “The Regatta” has been traditionally held on the first Wednesday in August.

On the night before the Regatta the  residents of the historic city have the option to stay at home and have a quite night or “roll the dice” and PARTY!! The choice has become known as “Regatta Roulette.”

As residents party into the night, refreshment (s) in hand, there is always the lingering question, when I turn on the radio at 6:00 a.m. will the Royal Regatta officials say “IT IS A GO” or will it be a day at work?

An estimated 35,000 -50,000 people go to lake side at Quidi Vidi Lake, St. John’s  to enjoy the  races and the concessions.

 “… A ROWING MATCH WILL TAKE PLACE …”

The first documentation of boat races in St. John’s is taken from a very small notice in The Royal Gazette newspaper dated 1816:

 “We understand a rowing Match will take place on Monday next between two boats, upon which considerable Bets are depending. They are to start at half past One o’clock from along side the Prison Ship.”

–       The Royal Gazette, 6 August 1816

While this is not considered the official starting date of the Regatta, it does lend itself to the history, showing that boat racing did occur. The date the Royal St. John’s Regatta Committee refers to as the official start date is 1818.

Since that time the Regatta has become a staple of Newfoundland history, and has run continuously every year since, with few exceptions. The Royal St. John’s Regatta itself is a curious entity. It is:

  • the only civic holiday in North Americato be declared by a committee of persons not associated with a government body;
  • the only civic holiday that is dependant on the weather;
  • the only competition where teams have to round buoys and return to the start line in order to finish the race;
  • one of only four organizations in Newfoundland and Labrador to be granted the Royal Designation (the others are The Royal Newfoundland Regiment, The Royal Newfoundland Constabulary and The Royal Newfoundland Yacht Club).

Will we get together for a drink on Tuesday night?  Will it be a quite night at home?   Regatta Roulette!

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 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:  http://regatta.nlpl.ca/php/home.php

 

“The rowing of women upon the lake”

Archival Moment

August 15, 1856

Photo Credit: The Rooms Provincial Archives. Bowring’s Ladies Championship Crew St. John’s Regatta, 1949.

Photo Credit: The Rooms Provincial Archives. Bowring’s Ladies Championship Crew St. John’s Regatta, 1949.

The local St. John’s newspaper, The Newfoundland Ledger on August 15, 1856 reported on a first for women at the Regatta.  The paper reported:

 “One novelty attracted some attention, the rowing of women upon the lake in two gigs, a practice hitherto not adopted in St. John’s.” 

And indeed it must have been a novelty, in 1856 the role of women in society was much different than it is today. Rowing would have been almost unthinkable and completely beyond normal convention. Yet these women risked criticism and ridicule to participate in the Annual St. John’s Regatta.

The race was the 5th and final one of the second day of the Regatta. Two crews entered – a crew of Quidi Vidi women in the “Darling” and a women’s crew from the Battery  (Southside) in the “Banshee”. These were both six oared gigs.

The Quidi Vidi women won,  the crew members were: Ellen Walsh (stroke); Mary Brace; Jennie King; Lizzie Hauton; Crissie Squires; and Jessie Needham. Robert Hennebury was the coxswain.

It was almost another century before women participated again in the St. John’s Regatta.

In 1941, members of the American military took part in the races, including crews of WAF (Women in the Air Force). Further initiatives to include women in the races were rebuffed.

A 1945 newspaper column “Notes on the Regatta” reported the decision of the Regatta Committee not to include a “Ladies’ Race” in the Victory Regatta. In 1949, the decision was overturned, and four crews of women competed in the historic event. The spectators gathered to cheer the women on numbered well over 8,000, one of the largest crowds reported at Quidi Vidi Lake.

In terms of numbers, women now dominate the St. John’s Regatta.

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 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 tune (Listen): http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BNVQdwzMKpA

 

Seven Placentia Giants at the Regatta

Archival Moments

August 9, 1877

Seven Placentia Giants, 1877.

Seven Placentia Giants, 1877.

The talk in St. John’s  in the days approaching Regatta Day in 1877 was all about a crew of fisherman from Placentia daring  to compete for supremacy on the historic waters of Quidi Vidi Lake.

In 1877, Mr. Edward Sinnot a businessman of Placentia, assembled a crew of six strapping fishermen, all over 6 feet tall. Phillip Morrissey, Daniel Morrissey, Patrick Morrissey, John Morrissey, Moses Morrissey, and James Whelan. Sinnott would act as coxswain.

On Saturday night, August 4th, the crew hoisted their boat on their shoulders and left Placentia to walk the 90 miles to St. John’s. The trail was a rough one through the woods, as there was no road. The press in St. John’s and the public anxiously awaited their arrival.

The St. John’s newspaper the Morning Chronicle reported on, August 7, 1877

“We have no doubt that their brother fishermen in St. John’s and the neighbouring outports will accord to them a hearty welcome, and in the friendly contest of Thursday (Regatta Day) next willingly concede to them all the immunities of honorable rivalry.”

Expectations on how the ‘Placentia Giants” would do was low.  In a letter to the Editor of the Morning Chronicle on August 9th it was written:

“As they have had pluck to start I trust they will make a favorable show; but it is hard to expect men who have had no practice, and who are unaccustomed to the pond, to match men like you have here in St. John’s – well practiced and acquainted with the race course. I merely mention this to show that they will be contending against big odds. I do not mean to throw anything like disparagement on the men; they are good strapping fellows, no doubt, and deserve great credit for breaking the way for others to follow their plucky footsteps in the future.”

The great Race of Regatta day, August 9th, was the “Fisherman’s Race.”  Seven boats entered,  the competing crews came from Torbay, Outer Cove, Harbour Grace, Placentia, St. John’s and a British Warship that was in port.

The Morning Chronicle of August 11th describes the race:

“The Placentia crew in their own boat walked beautifully over the course and won the Prince of Wales first prize. The famous Outer Cove crew of last year were left far away behind, and proved that even their magnificent rowing could not retrieve the reputation of a boat whose natural propensity to push all before her seem insuperable.”

For rowing the quickest time of the day, the crew of the “Placentia” were awarded a bonus of $10. The victory was the cause of great excitement and Governor Musgrave asked to have the seven visitors brought to him so he could give each a gold sovereign.

With their moment of glory over, the victorious crew lifted their boat to their shoulders and walked home with it.

The Placentia crew quickly became known as as the ‘Seven Placentia Giants’.”

This tremendous feat was replicated in 1977 by the Placentia Lions who once again carried a boat to St. John’s and won the Championship.  It marked the second straight year that the Lions Crew had won the Triple Crown of Rowing, meaning they had won the men’s senior Championship in all three fixed-seat rowing Regattas (Placentia, Harbour Grace and St. John’s.)

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.

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. (Note: Research and writing for this Archival Movement was completed by John O’Mara.)

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

Catholics eat meat at St. John’s Regatta?

Archival Moment

August 6, 1964

Photo Credit: The Rooms Provincial Archives  1.502.050A; Regatta crowd on the north side slopes of Quidi Vidi Lake during Come Home Year Regatta

Photo Credit: The Rooms Provincial Archives 1.502.050A; Regatta crowd on the north side slopes of Quidi Vidi Lake during Come Home Year Regatta

On Thursday, August 6, 1964, Father Dermot O’Keefe, Secretary to Archbishop Patrick J. Skinner,  Roman Catholic Archbishop  of St. John’s  contacted all of the local radio stations and newspapers  with the important announcement  that he (the Archbishop)

has granted a general dispensation from the law of abstinence  from meat on tomorrow (Friday, August 7th)  to all Roman Catholics  in all parishes of the Archdiocese of St. John’s.”

The Archbishop stated “Meat is therefore permitted as often as desired on this Friday, whether the Regatta is held or not.”

In the Roman Catholic Church their are certain disciplinary observances that were encouraged. On Friday’s, Christians are encouraged to fast. That fast takes the form of avoiding meat in the diet.

With the  Regatta cancelled because of inclement weather on Wednesday, August 5, 1964  and the weather not looking good  for Thursday, August 6, 1964  Archbishop  Skinner  insisted that the “law of abstinence from meat  on Friday, August 7, 1964 be dispensed.”

With the law dispensed Roman Catholics could stand at Quid Vidi Lake enjoying the Regatta with hotdogs and hamburgers in hand with the rest of the population.

Recommended Reading:  A Day at the Races: Mysteries of the Royal St.   John’s Regatta, 2003 by Jack FitzGerald

Recommended Archival Collection: At The Rooms, Provincial Archives Division take some time to look at VA 61:   Souvenir 1912 Regatta, St. John’s, Newfoundland / photographed and published by P.H. Cowan (St. John’s, N.L)

Recommended Web Site: http://regatta.nlpl.ca/  or http://www.stjohnsregatta.org/old/events_dates.html

THE REGATTA DAY TUNE

Photo Credit: The Rooms Provincial Archives Division: B22-55 Photographic reproduction of a published music sheet. Credited to Francis Forbes, Chief Justice of Newfoundland (1816-1822)

The Banks of Newfoundland –  The Regatta Day Tune

Francis Forbes’s, Chief Justice of Newfoundland (1816-1822) and later First Chief Justice of Australia (1823-1837) is credited with writing “The Banks of Newfoundland”. Most would immediately recognize the tune as “Up the Pond,” or  “Dum-Da-Diddely.” 

The music is a piece steeped in the tradition of North America’s oldest continuing sporting event the annual Royal St. John’s Regatta. The tune is traditionally played as the crews pass the bandstand on their return to the stakes, though it has been played at the start of the races as well.

In addition to this connection with the Regatta, “The Banks of Newfoundland” is the Regimental March for the Royal Newfoundland Regiment.

“The Banks of Newfoundland” enjoyed a populist appeal in nineteenth-century Newfoundlandthat would have likely astounded Justice Forbes.

Processions, festivals, dinners, soirees, and the like were frequently enlivened with renditions of the popular tune, a tradition that began in the 1820s .

Recommended Archival Collection:  At the Rooms, Provincial Archives Division see B22 -55:  The Banks of Newfoundland: A Dance composed by Judge Forbes.Boston: published by Oliver Ditson,115 Washington St. [photographic reproduction]

 Recommended Reading: Dictionary of Canadian Biography:  http://www.biographi.ca/009004-119.01-e.php?&id_nbr=3386

 Recommended Reading: A Newfoundland SongbookA Collection of Music by Historic Newfoundland Composers, 1820-1942“, compiled and annotated by Paul G. Woodford: Creative Publishers,St. John’s (1987).

Recommended to Listen: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BNVQdwzMKpA