A look back at the Gull Lake Regatta

Summertime is full of all kinds of celebrations, festivals and family activities.

However, one type of summertime event which used to be very popular, but is no longer held in Central Alberta, is an annual regatta at one of the local recreational lakes.

The first regatta in the region was held at Sylvan Lake on July 12th, 1913.

It was so popular that Gull Lake soon announced its intention to hold a similar summer celebration on Saturday, Aug. 9th, 1913.

As had been the case at Sylvan Lake, the first annual Gull Lake Regatta was a tremendous success. There were so many entries for the swimming and boating races that a second day of competitions had to be quickly organized for the following Monday.

As it turned out, the sailing races still had to be postponed to the following Saturday in order to keep the schedules manageable.

Plans were made to hold a second annual regatta at Gull Lake at the beginning of August 1914, but on a Monday instead of a Saturday.

The new Gull Lake Aquatic Club took charge of the arrangements. In order to make it possible for even more people to attend, the Lacombe Town Council declared a civic holiday.

Once again, the Regatta was a phenomenal success. An estimated 2,500 people from Calgary, Edmonton, Lacombe and many other parts of the province turned out. About the only glitch occurred when the canoe races were interrupted by, “A motor boat in charge of some water hog.”

Despite the fact that the First World War broke out literally the day after the second annual Regatta, plans pushed ahead for a third annual event on Monday, Aug. 9th, 1915.

Lacombe declared a civic holiday again and the village of Bentley followed suit. Once again, large crowds turned out for the competitions and festivities.

Because of the continuation of the War, no Regatta was organized in 1916.

Instead a sports day was held on Wednesday, Aug. 9th. However, to encourage attendance, a civic holiday was still proclaimed in Lacombe and Bentley.

In 1919, after the War was over, the annual Gull Lake Regatta was revived.

A large ‘illuminated’ evening boat parade was staged as a climax to the festivities. In 1920, a children’s regatta was organized in July, with the main regatta continuing to be held in early August.

By the latter part of the 1920s, a tradition commenced of alternating which hometown of the cottagers and vacationers would be honored. Hence in, in 1928, Calgary was given the nod, in 1929, it was Edmonton and in 1930, Lacombe.

On July 23rd, 1930, a big boost came when the annual regatta was combined with the official opening ceremonies for the Aspen Beach Provincial Park and government pier.

An estimated 3,000 people turned out for the ceremonies and competitions.

The addition of a large new public pier made it possible for another big boost in 1931 and 1932. The championship Wrigley Swims were held in conjunction with the Regatta.

These special competitions were sponsored by the Wrigley Chewing Gum Company, in cooperation with the Canadian and Alberta swimming associations.

The Wrigley Swims were moved to Sylvan Lake in 1933.

However, the Gull Lake Regattas continued to be popular mid-summer events for several more years. A new setback occurred in 1938 when the government pier was removed. The outbreak of the Second World War in September 1939 was an even bigger setback. The annual event was scaled back to a mini-regatta for children.

In 1948, an attempt was made to hold a full-scale Gull Lake regatta again, but support had ebbed.

Moreover, regattas took a lot of time and money to organize, but were very dependent upon the weather for success. Hence, the new ‘first annual’ Gull Lake Regatta turned out to be a one-time event.

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