The Royal St. John's Regatta has been a part of Newfoundland history for 185 years. It has been known to draw a crowd of up to 50,000 people annually to the shores of Quidi Vidi Lake. It is the oldest and probably one of the most celebrated annual sporting events in North America. The first recorded documentation of an organized event taking place is in 1818, but historians believe that rowing matches were taking place among ship's crews in St. John's Harbour since at least the 1700's.
It is no surprise that in a society developed with such close ties to the sea that the skills of seafaring men - and more recently women - would be put to the test in friendly and sometimes unfriendly competition.
... a rowing match will take place ...
The first documentation of boat races 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 1816While this is not considered the official starting date of the Regatta, it does lend itself to 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 America to be declared by a committee of persons not associated with a government body;
- the only civic holiday that is dependant on the weather;
- one of the last fixed seat rowing competitions known to exist in the world;
- 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).
Close ties with Royalty
Having very close ties to the Monarchy has been a source of great pride for those involved with the Regatta. The Regatta has been visited by members of the Royal Family, including Prince Albert Edward (later King Edward) in 1860 and Queen Elizabeth II in 1978. It has been canceled due to the death of any Monarch, and any year a Coronation has taken place or a milestone Jubilee celebrated, the Regatta has been held in honor of the Monarch. Its Royal designation was incorporated in 1993, which prompted changes in the event and the development of a new crest.