A Day at the Races: The St John's Regatta Story


190 pages
Contains Photos, Bibliography
ISBN 1-894294-64-5
DDC 797.1'4'097181




Reviewed by Melvin Baker

Melvin Baker is an archivist and historian at Memorial University of
Newfoundland, and the co-editor of Dictionary of Newfoundland and
Labrador Biography.


The St. John’s, Newfoundland, annual regatta is the “oldest fixed
seat rowing Regatta in the world. It is also one of the oldest surviving
Regattas in the world,” dating from at least 1826. Since 1929, it has
generally been held on the first Wednesday of August, weather
permitting, or the next suitable day. It attracts over 50,000 people to
Quidi Vidi Lake for the combined sporting activity and social event,
which is celebrated with music, dancing, and food “with the same
enthusiasm and [...] anticipation as the Christmas Season.”

The book’s nine chapters emphasize the “fascinating, humorous, and
intriguing anecdotes of Regatta history.” The majority of the chapters
have brief newspaper-style accounts on the racers, boat builders, and
boats; there are also interesting stories about the involvement of
Canadian and American military personnel, especially during World War

The boats used until the 1840s were those found in the normal fish
trade of the day; then, influenced by the Halifax regatta, racing shells
were substituted. In 1949, women’s teams were entered in the regatta
for the first time; today, they form a majority of all teams entered.
One chapter describes the public use of alcohol at the “races.” For
example, in 1978, members of the Regatta Committee decided not to
consume alcohol at the boathouse out of respect for the visiting Queen
Elizabeth and Duke of Edinburgh, prompting committee members after 1978
to continue the practice.

In the 19th century, many people went to the lake days before the
regatta and set up tents so that their families could enjoy the event as
a holiday outing. Today, it is a highlight of the St. John’s social
calendar. This account by one of Newfoundland’s most prolific popular
historians captures its excitement.


Fitzgerald, Jack., “A Day at the Races: The St John's Regatta Story,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed July 16, 2024, https://cbra.library.utoronto.ca/items/show/18058.