A look back at the Sylvan Lake Regattas

Michael Dawe

Michael Dawe

This coming weekend is the August long weekend – long considered a high point of the summer.

Many people will be flocking to campgrounds, parks and resorts to enjoy all the warm weather they can.

For a great many years, one of the summer highlights in Central Alberta was the annual Sylvan Lake regatta.

The first of these events was held almost 100 years ago in July 1913, not long after Sylvan Lake was officially incorporated as a village.

The whole community, including the summer residents enthusiastically backed the new event. The new pier was festooned with evergreens, flags and bunting. Every business, as well as many houses and cabins, were also extensively decorated.

The regatta consisted of numerous swimming events and boating contests. As well as the water competitions, there was a tennis tournament.

The first evening of the event saw a large dance being held in the newly-built Hennan Opera House on Main St.

On the second evening, there was a lavish banquet. Music was supplied on both days by the Red Deer Citizens Band (the forerunner of today’s Red Deer Royals).

Generally, the first regatta was a great success. However, there were some controversies. Connie and Marion Jarvis won the Junior Ladies sculls using a Mullins steel boat. Some people felt that gave them an unfair advantage and steel boats were consequently banned from future regatta races. However, next year, the Jarvis’s competed in a wooden boat and again won handily.

A 1914 regatta was also a great success.

Tragically, before the summer was over, the First World War broke out. As people’s attention turned towards the War effort, the holding of regattas was suspended.

The annual Sylvan Lake regatta was revived on August 15, 1923. No less than 35 water events were organized. The Maple Leaf, a large motor launch with an impressive fringed top, was used to ferry dignitaries around and to provide a judges’ platform during the swimming and boating contests.

Lieutenant-Governor R.G. Brett presented the medals and prizes at the concluding banquet.

Unfortunately, he had not actually witnessed any of the daytime events. He missed his train that morning. When he subsequently headed for Sylvan Lake by car, he got lost. Hence, he did not arrive until early evening.

While the 1923 Regatta was a great success in terms of crowds, it was a bust financially. So much money was spent on promotion, prizes and competition medals, that expenses far exceeded revenues.

Fortunately, more care was taken with the 1924 Regatta.

The weather was great and large crowds turned out again. A notable feature of the Regatta was the presence of three sailboats, one built by R.G. Dawe of Northey’s Point, another by A.H. Russell, a Red Deer lawyer and a third just built by Leonard Fulmer, a cottage owner at Jarvis Bay.

So long as the weather cooperated, the regattas throughout the 1920s and 1930s were successes.

An increasingly popular component of the annual events were the nightly dances at the Sylvan Lake Hotel, Elks Hall, Alexander Pavilion and the Trianon (soon renamed the Varsity) Dance Hall.

A big boost came in the mid-1930s when the Wrigley Chewing Gum Company began sponsoring the swimming events. Athletes from across Alberta came to Sylvan Lake to compete.

The annual regattas again went dormant during the Second World War. However, in 1960, the “First” Sylvan Lake Annual Regatta was organized. It was a wonderful success.

The crowds were so large that the Town erected bleachers along the beach so people could better watch the competitions and water entertainments. Moreover, with all the heavy traffic, Lakeshore Dr. was turned into a one-way thoroughfare.

Four more large regattas were staged, but unfortunately, were often dogged by bad weather. The 1964 Regatta was particularly hard hit. No large-scale regattas were held after that.