Harbour Grace Regatta marking special milestone

Event turns 150; expanded celebrations planned

Nicholas Mercer nmercer@cbncompass.ca
Published on July 18, 2012

When the boats enter the cool, blue waters of Lady Lake in Harbour Grace for the start of the annual regatta on July 28, it will mark the 150th time it has happened.

That's right, the second longest continuous sporting event in Canada turns 150 this month. The event trails only the Royal St. John's Regatta in that department.

To celebrate this milestone, Joanne Taylor, Bud Chafe and the rest of the Regatta Day committee have expanded the normally one-day event.

While the races will still be held on the 28th, the committee has decided to stretch out the sesquicentennial celebrations.

"We're making it an eight-day event," said Taylor.

Starting on Saturday, July 21, the committee has numerous events planned, including a temporary drive-in movie theatre at Lady Lake on July 23, complete with a 40-foot viewing screen. Called "Movies in Motion," patrons will be able to park their cars and enjoy a classic movie watching experience.

The committee will be working in conjunction with the Pirate Days celebrations in Harbour Grace on July 21 in Harbour Grace harbour.

The official regatta anniversary date, meanwhile, is Saturday, July 22. This date has been designated "re-enactment day," with plans to stage an event similar to an early regatta. This will feature whaleboats on loan from fishermen in Lower Island Cove. There will also be cardboard boat races that day.

The main event is the regatta on July 28, with a mini-regatta planned for July 29. The idea is to give novice rowers an opportunity to get on the Lake, sharing an oar with an experienced rower.

Regatta history

It was on July 22, 1862 that the first regatta was run as members of the Harbour Grace Volunteer Fire Company dressed in their blue uniforms and carried the boats to Lady Lake.

At that time, whaleboats propelled by four oarsmen and guided by a coxswain, were used.

Today's racing shells feature six oarsmen and are made of fibreglass.

Those first whaleboats had names — Medlock, Weasel, Hawk, Test and a gig named Nelly — and their own unique histories.

It was not until 1971 that the regatta committee of the day purchased three six-oared shells from the St. John's Regatta committee.

Let there be light

The expansion of the regatta celebrations are not the only addition that is going to be seen at Lady Lake this year.

For the first time, full electricity service are now available at the boathouse. Previously, a portable generator provided power, meaning a familiar noise will be missing this year, much to the delight of organizers like Chafe.

"You can have any kind of activities now. Something like Paddy's Garden (in Carbonear)," he said.

It cost some $75,000 to install utility poles and run powerlines to the site, with the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency (ACOA) footing the bill.

Future plans include the expansion of the boathouse to accommodate an indoor rowing facility.

"If it's windy, we can't put anyone on the pond," Chafe said. "This would allow them to do the same thing indoors."

A family affair

Rowing in Harbour Grace is very much a family affair.

Joanne Taylor been involved in rowing for just under three decades. Her extended family — the Taylors of Bristol's Hope — have been pulling on oars for five generations, beginning in the early 1900s when Percy Taylor Sr. took up the sport.

Family names like Williams, Chafe, Dove, Downing and Pike are all synonymous with rowing in the town.

With Harbour Grace starting off rowers as young as seven, Taylor said it is not strange to see older siblings joining in, followed by parents.

Chafe started with the Regatta in 1961, and now has two granddaughters (Emily and Abigail) involved in rowing.

Chafe's grandson, Brendan Chafe, will race in the senior men's division, and serve as a coxswain with four other crews.

Huge number of local crews

Taylor said there will be 36 local crews rowing in the 150th Harbour Grace Regatta, the most she has ever seen, with rowers ranging in age from seven to 75.

It is a sign that rowing is alive and growing in the Conception Bay North region.

"It's because we're the only sport in the area that doesn't cost any money," said Taylor.

Excitement is running high for regatta day to get here, but there is one factor that still needs to be worked out for race day - wind conditions.

"Old man weather is going to determine whether it goes ahead," said Chafe.

For full schedule and contact information, see Page A8 in the July 17, 2012 print edition of The Compass.