On the first Wednesday of every August, 50 people get together at 5:30 a.m. in a boat house in St. John’s to vote on whether the people of the city will get the day off work.
‘Out here, the regatta is seen as this highfalutin townie thing.’
– George Ayoub
That decision will be based entirely on the weather.
“There’s a lot of pressure,” says Chris Neary, whose recommendation on the day will lead the vote. “The more the weather reports are looking fuzzy, the more the pressure’s on and the more nervous you are.”
This is Regatta Day in St. John’s, Newfoundland and Labrador. In a city known for it’s horrible, unpredictable weather, Regatta Day is Canada’s only weather-dependent civic holiday.
The Regatta Day holiday is scheduled each year for the first Wednesday in August, to coincide with the Royal St. John’s Regatta, a day-long series of rowing races on Quidi Vidi Lake.
Neary is the Regatta’s course captain. He looks at different weather models and predictions to make a recommendation on whether the races should go ahead, or be postponed.
‘There’s a general sense of flirting with disaster, that’s always fun.’
– Sandy May
He then presents his opinion to the Regatta committee and they vote on his recommendation.
At 6 a.m., they announce their decision to the media and the people of St. John’s either crawl back into bed to glory in their mid-week holiday — or get ready for a regular day of work which, depending on the gamble they took the night before, could be quite unpleasant.
Throwing the dice
The night before the regatta is an established tradition known affectionately, or begrudgingly, as regatta roulette.
Bars and bands capitalize on people playing regatta roulette, drinking until the wee hours of the morning and hoping for good weather, so they don’t wind up going to work the next day hungover and exhausted.
“There’s a general sense of flirting with disaster, that’s always fun,” said Sandy May, who plays with the band Texas Chainsaw.
For what it’s worth, forecast models suggest the Aug. 2 races will indeed go ahead.
A shag-up at a wedding
Regatta Day is a municipal holiday regulated by the provincial Shops Closing Act. It’s not a statutory holiday, but most of the stores in the city close for the day and everyone gets the…