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Museum Musings: The annual Alta Lake ‘Regretta’

Amusement for seafarers and landlubbers alike
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Pie-eating contests were an important part of the summer regattas.

For many people, the Labour Day long weekend marks the end of the summer; school holidays are over and the days are getting noticeably colder and shorter. Knowing the warm days are coming to an end may bring a sense of sadness to some. This feeling was even more palpable in the community of Alta Lake, where the population increased in the summer months and life revolved around the lake—fishing, swimming and sailing. The biggest community celebration ran over the September long weekend, and was named the “Regretta”—because the community regretted that summer was coming to an end.

The Alta Lake Sailing Club ran out of Cypress Lodge and regattas were held each long weekend throughout the summer. Opening the sailing season was the Jelly Fish Race held on the May long weekend, followed by the Dominion Day Derby held on July 1. But the biggest event of them all was the annual Regretta held on Labour Day weekend, starting in 1965. 

The Regretta was a day-long celebration that incorporated sailing races, as well as fun contests and activities for children and adults alike. Alta Lake became a colourful display of sailing craft with Sabots, Davidson D12s, Flying Juniors, Enterprises, Hobie Cats and Catamarans all popular. Sabots were the first boat of choice, as the eight-foot sailing dinghies were light enough to carry up the bank for storage at the end of the summer. 

Along with the regular regatta races, fun races and obstacle courses kept both participants and spectators entertained. “Repel all boarders” was an obstacle race with up to five people on board vying to get through the course the fastest without any “pirates” boarding the boats or losing any crew members. There were also “free-for-all races” that allowed splashing and tipping—any tactics to delay the other racers were encouraged.

There were many amusing activities for the “landlubbers” too, often organized by Florence Peterson. In a recent oral history interview with the Whistler Museum, Carol Fairhurst, whose parents owned Cypress Lodge, remembered the event fondly.

“We would have the three-legged race where two people tie their inside leg together and you have to run, [and] the sack race where you’d get in a potato sack and you had to hop,” she recalled. 

“Then there would be egg-throwing contests, pie-eating contests, and tug of wars where they had two wharves and two teams and the losing team got pulled into the water. The pie-eating contest was always huckleberry pies, so it was hilarious, because people would end up with blue faces. It was a good time. The sailboat races were a big deal.”

Another activity from the Regretta that should definitely be brought back, if only for entertainment purposes, is the Alta Lake pole-vaulting contest. The aim of this competition was to launch yourself high into the air over the lake and land in an inner tube. 

Prizes and trophies were presented for both the serious and not-so-serious competitions. Renate Bareham, née Ples, grew up in Alta Lake and remembers winning a hand mirror in the log-rolling competition.

This celebration of summer brought as many as 100 residents and weekenders together for a day in the sun, which was quite the turnout for a small community. Throughout the 10 or so years that the Regretta ran, it certainly left an impression on all those lucky enough to take part.