Travel

11 days of festivals in St. John’s, Newfoundland

The Royal St. John’s Regatta is really the apex of all the festivals, and one that Newfoundlanders cherish.

Kim Foley MacKinnon

The Royal St. John’s Regatta is really the apex of all the festivals, and one that Newfoundlanders cherish.

Like any fan of “This is Spinal Tap” knows, 11 is a number that transcends — it’s one more than 10 and it’s what you need if you want that “extra push over the cliff.” And even if you don’t get the movie reference, clearly 11 is superior to 10.

As far as festivals go, St. John’s, Newfoundland, thinks 11 is a perfect number and accordingly delivers an 11-day bonanza of fun, starting with the raucous George Street Festival and ending with the more kid-friendly Buskers Festival. Sandwiched in between is North America’s oldest regatta and the second longest-running folk festival in Canada.

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Newfoundland’s capital city markets the end of July and beginning of August as “St. John’s Time” and not only does the season draw lots of first-time visitors, locally referred to as “come from aways,” many Newfoundlanders who have moved out of the country plan their vacations to coincide with the events.

Last summer, I was fortunate to hit the sweet spot of overlapping parts of all four festivals in a few days while vacationing with a friend. I’m not sure we could have handled all 11 days of festival revelry, but we had plenty of time to get a sense of the overwhelming friendliness of the people in the region. This is one of those places where everyone greets you in passing, or even stops you on the street to ask you where you’re from, what your plans are, and where they think you should go next for a meal, a drink, or an attraction.

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Usually, I’m a heavy-duty planner, but this trip was back-to-back with a business trip, and I had decided just to roll with whatever was going on. Our first night in town happened to be on one of the last nights of the George Street Festival, basically a big musical street party, with bands and acts performing for six nights before the regatta. Even a big Boston favorite, the Dropkick Murphys, have performed in prior years.

The Royal St. John’s Regatta is really the apex of all the festivals, and one that Newfoundlanders cherish. The one-day event, which is always scheduled for the first Wednesday of April, is a local holiday — virtually everything is closed in town — and is said to be the oldest, longest-running organized sporting event in North America. The 2016 regatta will be its 198th anniversary.

Of course, I wasn’t going to miss it. As crews raced on Quidi Vidi Lake, the atmosphere around the lake was like a carnival, with tents, games, food trucks, cotton candy, and ice cream stands. As I wandered around, over and over I saw people running up to hug people they hadn’t seen in a while. Kids ran around playing and people sat along the shores of the lake to watch the athletes.

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Hot on the heels of the Regatta is the Newfoundland and Labrador Folk Festival, a three-day event held at Bannerman Park in St. John’s, which this year will mark its 40th anniversary. The festival brings in top folk acts from around the province, making it a must for folk enthusiasts around the world. Overlapping with the folk festival is the three-day Buskers Festival, which takes place in the small downtown area of St. John’s. Jugglers, musicians, comedians, magicians, and other street performers entertain crowds, mostly made up of families.

More than anything, what I loved about “St. John’s Time,” was the chance to really feel like part of the community. I’m not sure I’ve been to a place where I was made to feel so welcome in such a brief time. I’m certain I’ll return and I’m even more certain that when I do, it will feel exactly the same way.

Kim Foley MacKinnon can be reached at kimfoleymacckinnon@gmail.com.
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