Kawartha Lakes Regattas
August 10, 2023
A Regatta Holiday at Sturgeon Point
In the nineteenth century, before the advent of nationwide, televised, professional sports, people kept track of famous sporting heroes by reading the weekly newspaper. Popular sports included, running, swimming, boxing, and rowing. Whereas today, practically everyone can view sports from the comfort of their own home, back then, it would make for a much anticipated event if these celebrities came to town.
The first regattas were organized not long after the first European immigrants came to the region. The Langton family hosted a regatta at Blythe, near Sturgeon Point, in 1838, but “on account of some noisy, rough work in the crowd the party broke up prematurely.” The next year they held a second regatta, which ended with a drowning. By the late nineteenth century, many communities in the Kawarthas organized their own regatta that could attract hundreds or even thousands of visitors. Often, the most anticipated event was the single scull rowing competition. In 1878, when the Dunham Family, who operated the Sturgeon Point Hotel, revived the Sturgeon Point Regatta, they offered $1200 in prizes (enough money to buy a farm). First prize for the single scull race was $350, and the purse attracted famous rowers Ned Hanlan, Frenchy Johnson, Jake Gandaur, Evan Morris and Charles Courtney.
It was no coincidence, that the local hotel owners organized the Sturgeon Lake Regatta. Many attendees would need a place to stay, and it would be one of the most profitable weeks of the year. Regardless of which community was hosting a regatta, most attendees would have to travel by steamship or train. These companies were typically indispensable in financing and marketing the events.
While many waterfront communities had their own regatta, Sturgeon Point and Stoney Lake has the best known regattas in the area. These events might attract a few thousand visitors, which certainly would make for a busy day for these waterfront communities (and the steamboats ferrying passengers to their destinations.) Popular events included dinghy, sailing, canoe sailing, gunwhale, upset, water polo, and canoe races. At the 1878 Sturgeon Point regatta, August and Samson Yellowhead of Rama defeated Dan Whetung and his partner Toboco from Curve Lake in a much anticipated spectacle.
The crowds often enjoyed watching the tilting competitions between two canoes. In the rear of each canoe, a paddler would control the boat, with a partner standing at the bow, holding a wooden pole with a padded end. The objective of the sport was to knock the opponent down, or, preferably, overboard, using the pole, without falling over in the process. Basically being jousting while standing in or even on the canoe’s gunnels, it required a lot of balance, and was quite entertaining for those who were watching.
Regattas were one of the most anticipated annual events of the year. While practically all local residents would attend the annual fair, regattas had a draw that included international tourists. They were important in introducing visitors to the region that would subsequently become known as the Kawarthas, helping Sturgeon Point and Stoney Lake become renowned waterfront destinations in the process. Regattas continued into the mid twentieth century in many communities and some still host this annual event to this day.