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For the week of Monday September 19, 2005

On September 22, 1818, the first Royal St. John’s Regatta was officially held. The Newfoundland rowing match was contested between six boats over 3.1 km to celebrate the 57th anniversary of the crowning of England's King George III. Today, the Royal St. John’s Regatta is the oldest and most important annual sporting event in North America!

Second place race boat and crew at the 1896 St. John
Second place race boat and crew at the 1895 St. John's Regatta
© Provincial Archives of Newfoundland and Labrador / VA 19-192
Until very recently, it was believed that the first official regatta had been held in 1826, but research has revealed that it actually dates back to 1818. Even so, everything points to boat races on St. John’s Harbour being held since the 18th century.

Today, six-person teams race unique fixed-seat shells on Quidi Vidi Lake. The races are distinctive as well – each crew must start and end each race at the same point, which means they must manoeuvre the boat to turn at the buoys at the halfway point in each race! The men’s course is 2.45 km while the women’s course is 1.23 km.

Throughout the years, the regatta has become increasingly popular and, today, it attracts crowds of 40 000 to 50 000 spectators. The race is always held on the first Wednesday of August, weather permitting. The Regatta Committee has the unique authority to call a civic holiday with their early morning decision to “go” or to postpone until the next fine day. A carnival is also organized on the grounds along the shoreline to accompany the excitement of the racing.

The Sons of England, champion crew of the 1899 Regatta
The Sons of England, champion crew of the 1899 Regatta
© Provincial Archives of Newfoundland and Labrador / VA 19-76
The Royal St. John’s Regatta has been held faithfully most years since 1818, except when it’s been cancelled for major events. For example, there was no regatta in the years of a monarch’s death or, between 1861 and 1870, because of the political and religious instability in Newfoundland. It was not held in 1892 because of the Great Fire that devastated St. John’s. The races were suspended between 1915 and 1918 because of the First World War and, in 1940, at the beginning of the Second World War. The regattas returned in 1941, offering the people a distraction while the war was still being fought.

The Royal St. John’s Regatta was designated a National Historical Event in 1989, and a plaque commemorating the annual event was erected in St. John’s in 1992.

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