Races yes, concessions no: The 2021 St. John's pandemic regatta

·3 min read
Royal St. John's Regatta committee president Bradley Power says the organization is 'very eager' to hold the event, after a hiatus in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. (Terry Roberts/CBC - image credit)
Royal St. John's Regatta committee president Bradley Power says the organization is 'very eager' to hold the event, after a hiatus in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. (Terry Roberts/CBC - image credit)
Terry Roberts/CBC
Terry Roberts/CBC

The 2021 Royal St. John's Regatta is a go this year, but without the usual vendors and accompanying crowds.

The event, marking its 203rd anniversary this year, is scheduled for Aug. 4, weather permitting.

"We've worked very hard to get to today's point, and we are very eager to push forward over the next couple of weeks," said Royal St. John's Regatta president Bradley Power at a press conference on Monday.

In 2020, the event was called off for the first time since 1940 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The holiday still happened but was moved to Monday.

This year, organizers are trying to stick to tradition as much as possible while staying within public health restrictions.

The regatta usually draws tens of thousands of people a year, and is the biggest annual event in the province. This year, organizers are asking spectators to stay home. Power says the races will be broadcast on TV and radio, and anyone not directly involved in the event should not come.

Submitted by Alick Tsui
Submitted by Alick Tsui

He says the planning committee is implementing extensive crowd control measures, including physical barriers, inclusion zones and a police presence.

"Safety first, that's No 1," he said.

Power called today's announcement "bittersweet" because although the races are going ahead, more than 150 vendors cannot participate this year.

During a Zoom meeting about the plans for this year, he said, vendors were "100 per cent" supportive of the organization's decision. The regatta will instead host a "virtual garden party" featuring the various businesses and nonprofit groups that usually set up stands.

Big financial hit to groups

Sam Wells, member of the St. John's Lions Club, says the regatta is usually one of the biggest annual fundraisers for the organization. He says Monday's announcement isn't a surprise, but it's still a disappointment

In an interview with CBC News, Wells said that the organization's funding has largely dried up over the course of the pandemic. He said the group usually fundraises between $5,000 and $20,000 in a single day at the regatta, but that won't be possible again this year.

Terry Roberts/CBC
Terry Roberts/CBC

"We've been here since 1948, so I don't think we're just going to give up," Wells said. "We'll find ways to raise money. If we can't do it at the regatta we'll have to find another place."

"We're hoping that come next year, the regatta will be bigger and better and we'll probably, hopefully, be just as well as they are."

An iconic event

Last year, when the regatta holiday was changed to the first Monday in August, organizers hinted the change could be permanent. This year, however, the holiday is back on the first Wednesday in August.

Power said the decision to go back to the first Wednesday in August was partly to honour tradition and partly as a crowd control measure, since not as many people will have the day off work.

"The regatta itself is a curious entity," Power said.

Power said the event is the only civic holiday in North America to be declared by a committee not associated with a government body, as well as the only one decided by weather.

St. John's Mayor Danny Breen called the event "iconic" and thanked the provincial government and Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Janice Fitzgerald for guidance in planning.

"We're ready to adapt and change as the circumstances see fit," said Breen

Power thanked the members of the rowing community and the planning committee. He hopes this year's changes will be a one-time occurrence and the event will be back to normal in 2022.

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