Renewed interest in Harbour Grace regatta

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A day at the races continues to be a big drawing card in Harbour Grace.Each summer, crowds line the banks of Lady Lake, ready to take in the sights and sounds of another regatta. The event takes place Saturday, July 31.This year marks the 148th running of the second oldest continuous sporting event in North America. It is dwarfed only by the Royal St. John's Regatta.

The Harbour Grace regatta has been running since July 22, 1862, and has its own traditions.

One concerns a silver trumpet.

In the earliest regattas, organizers had no way of contacting crews other than by shouting and gesturing from lakeside.

Around 1890, Edward Phelan, a retired Newfoundland cooper living in British Vancouver, B.C., sent a silver trumpet home to Joseph Godden.

The instrument was to be used by the Harbour Grace Volunteer Fire Company.

It was pressed into service at the regatta in the same way as a microphone is used today. As a result, the races ran more smoothly and professionally.

There are no plans for a silver trumpet to be blown at the 2010 version of the regatta. However, the enthusiasm of the spectators on shore will be no less muted than when the instrument emitted its first shrill blast in the late 1800s.

The regatta is one of the best-known sporting events in the area. This year's event features the usual activities, including games of chance and food concessions.

Rowing events will keep spectators in suspense as they cheer on the rowers in their lightweight racing shells.

There are ladies' races (senior, midget, master and juvenile), men's races (fishermen, labour and mercantile), and squirt girls' and boys' races (ages 10 and under).

An inter-town ladies' race and a family race are followed by the ladies' and men's championship races.

A crowd favourite is the cardboard boat race. Children make their own boats out of cardboard and race from the dock to the beach.

"Interest in the regatta dwindled half a dozen years ago," said Kathy Tetford, treasurer-registrar.

"But it's been coming back in recent years. Last year alone, we saw an increase of 10-12 crews. At this moment, a dozen or more (travel) trailers are already in place at the lake, waiting for the day of the regatta."

Tetford attributes the revived interest to the increasing involvement of children and young people. There are now 10-12 crews made up of 10- and 11-year olds.

"Of course, the children bring their parents, grandparents and other relatives," said Tetford.

She is also impressed by the increased involvement of women crews.

"Female involvement is now 2-1 over men. Ladies are taking over," she added with a smile.

The grounds are constantly being improved and upgraded, with more grass being added all the time. "A quality event requires both time and effort," said Tetford.

The committee is in the preliminary stages of planning the sesquicentennial anniversary of the Harbour Grace regatta.

"We're hoping to get back to basics," said Tetford. "We always promote the regatta as a fun time for the entire family. We're even planning a boil-up on the beach, like in the early days."

burtonj@nfld.net

Organizations: Harbour Grace Volunteer Fire Company.It, Tetford.The committee

Geographic location: Newfoundland, British Vancouver, B.C.

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