Thursday, 31 July 2014

Dartmouth Natal Day

If you are from Dartmouth, you probably know that there is a holiday the first Monday of August. You might also know that there will be a parade, fireworks and some sort of hustle and bustle around Lake Banook. However, you may wish to know more of the  history of Dartmouth Natal Day and, therefore, I present you this blog post...
Natal Day Beginnings
by Dr. J. P. Martin
It is just 69 years ago that Dartmouth commenced the celebration of its Natal Day, and that date takes us back to Wednesday, August 7, 1895.
It was the year that construction work was being done on the branch railway from Windsor Junction to Dartmouth thus connecting the Town with the main line of the Intercolonial Railway by travelling overland instead of via the railway bridge which had been destroyed in 1893. The work was to be completed by the summer of 1895, but it did not get finished until 1896.
Early in  1895 a group of citizens who comprised the Chebucto Amateur Athletic Club commenced a campaign to celebrate the arrival of the first train from Windsor Junction by holding some sort of a celebration to mark such an outstanding event. So they conceived the idea of holding a regatta on Lake Banook along with evening fireworks and bang concerts.
Undeterred by the information in the spring of 1895 that railway construction was away behind schedule, the Chebucto members went right ahead with their plans for a summer holiday by canvassing citizens and shopkeepers for donations in the shape of cash or articles suitable for prizes in the aquatic events. Newspaper records of those days reveal that there were only two silver cups awarded, the rest of the prizes consisting of cuff links, walking canes, wall-mirrors, spoon oars and a few medals.
The men whose enthusiasm and patriotism started such a celebration which has continued over the long years until now it is considered as one of the most outstanding summer events in Eastern Canada, should have their names recorded in every Natal Day program. They included President Arthur Pyke, Secretary Percy Simmonds, W. H. Stevens, Hope Watt, James Burchell, Colin McNab, W. B. Rankin, George A. Sterns, A. W. F. MacKay, Emery Bishop, C. W. Waterfield and others.
(Page 25, 1964 Dartmouth Natal Day program)
On the evening before Natal Day in August (1897), Parker Mott engaged St. Patrick's band to render a delightful concert outside his drugstore. The first grants for Natal Day were obtained that year when the Town and the Ferry Commission voted $100 each towards the celebration. In that year also, a morning program was inserted for the first time. One novelty was a lengthy bicycle parade which drew crowds downtown to watch a succession of costumed riders tinkling along the main streets in close formation. Miss Hattie Stevens won the prize for the best decorated wheel; and "Joe" Austen got another for the most original idea.
The other morning attraction was the spectacle of British tars landing from warships on the shore at Black Rock, and the attempts of soldiers from one of the Imperial regiments to defend the Town in mimic warfare. Sailors and soldiers stormed all over the Common.
At the regatta the Labrador whaler race was won by the North Star crew. The four Grant brothers of Woodside  finished second. Five boats competed. The North Stars were the same as the Turtle Grove crew of 1895, except that Percy Sawler took the place of "Sandy" Patterson. The Natal Day expenses totaled $330.46. (Page 462, Story of Dartmouth)

Our Natal Day (1906) was celebrated on August 9th, and for the first time in history, Halifax declared a civic half-holiday. A program of sports for school boys was held on the Common in the morning. At the Regatta the North Stars won the senior 4-oared shell race, and repeated the performance at three more regattas that summer on salt water. At the end of the season, however, the Stars were defeated for the Maritime Championship by the North West Arm Rowing Club. In the latter crew were James and Amos Turner, two young men from South Woodside. (Page 494, Story of Dartmouth)

The Dartmouth Natal Day Road Race is a great tradition.  In this day and age, you can sign up for either the 2 mile or 6 mile distance. I have personally entered (and completed) the 2 mile event and I like to joke that I came second in my age class (there were only two runners in that category). For the race, I wore my Banook Canoe Club paddling singlet (jersey, sort of) which is another Natal Day tradition. I would also like to add that my great grand uncle, James (Jimmy or Mart) Martin was a famous Dartmouth road runner (see below) who, interestingly, was so humble that he would (for most competitions) purposely step-back near the end of his races to allow the second place runner to finish first!  Here is a write-up, by John Martin (James' brother), on early road races in Dartmouth:
First Road Races
by Dr. J. P. Martin
 The late Lewis McKenna was Dartmouth's champion long distance runner in the decade of the 1880's. After his death road racing ran into a slump until 1904 when prizes were offered by Mayor Adam Crosby of Halifax for a 10-mile race from Bedford to Halifax, and simultaneously a 6-mile race from Rockingham to Halifax. Two Dartmouth boys were winners. James Martin captured the 10-mile race and Gerald Foot the Rockingham run.
Road racing became quite popular during the early 1900's and lasted up to the commencement of the 1914 war, the big event being the annual autumn 10-mile classic sponsored by a Halifax newspaper. Often there were 90 starters.
The first time that a road race was incorporated into a Dartmouth Natal Day program occurred in the year 1907 when a contest was held over the well-known Woodlawn course commonly called "around Tobin's". The winner that year was Leander Lennerton of Windmill Road, a first cousin of the Patterson boys whose family name has long been synonymous with all branches of sport in Dartmouth.  (Page 41, 1964 Dartmouth Natal Day Program)


Photo Courtesy Nova Scotia Archives. 

Photo Courtesy Nova Scotia Archives. "Dartmouth Natal Day Sports Aug. 2, 1923"

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