Pumpkin Regatta Not Able to Launch This Year


Malcolm Jacob, Scarlet Staff

As you all know, this is not our typical fall season in New England. COVID-19 has put a dent in some of our favorite seasonal activities, whether it’s agricultural fairs, sporting events, or trips to view the colorful foliage.

Things are equally unusual for our neighbors to the north, where a treasured annual tradition has been put on hold. The Windsor Pumpkin Regatta in Nova Scotia was unfortunately cancelled this year. Despite this however, the organizers hope to come back strong in the future. Vanessa Roberts, who runs the logistics of the regatta, was kind enough to share her input on the sad cancellation and on her community’s love of the festival.

“We’re quite proud of our pumpkin history here,” said Roberts. “Very proud of our Dill family.”

The story begins with Howard Dill, a Windsor native who first patented the Atlantic Giant pumpkin – in fact, any giant pumpkin you come across can have its genealogy traced back to this variety. Windsor’s annual event started as a weigh-off, and soon enough the regatta was added as well.

In the earliest days of international weigh-offs, the mayors of competing communities would observe the pumpkins brought in and telephone each other the top three weights. Then, in 1983, a consortium of four different sites came together, Windsor included. This was the beginning of the GPC, or the Giant Pumpkin Commonwealth, a multi-country organization that exists to this day.

The regatta began in 1999, brought to life when Howard’s son Danny suggested they try rowing the fruits across Lake Pesaquid like boats. “So that first year, 25 years ago, there were 5 intrepid souls who actually hollowed out giant pumpkins and got in them, and paddled them across the lake,” Roberts explained. “From that, the international craze of giant pumpkin rowing took off.”

Despite the success Howard’s son saw, utilizing pumpkins as boats is still no easy feat. The process of making a pumpkin boat requires hollowing out enough of the inside so that it is light enough to float, but leaving enough so that it remains stable. Each fruit can weigh between 500 and 800 pounds, so there is plenty of carving to do!

Then all you have to do is decorate your boat, paddle out, stay balanced, and try not to end up in the chilly Canadian water.

The event has received attention far and wide, with everyone from “Farmer’s Almanac” to “Guinness World Records” covering it. Martha Steward nearly showed up to paddle one year, but her plane was grounded due to bad weather. Similar events have become fall traditions in places such as Tualatin, Oregon and in other places closer to home, like Damariscotta, Maine.

In the past few years, the pumpkin regatta has faced several launch challenges. Last year, Hurricane Dorian damaged most of the giant pumpkins that were intended to be used as boats, nearly cancelling the festival. Then, of course, this year’s event has been cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The regatta attracts as many as 10 to 15 thousand visitors, and as a community of about 3,800 people, Windsor can’t afford a major outbreak.

“To us, it’s more important that we follow the guidelines, and that we keep everyone healthy,” Roberts said. “The Dill family is doing a small pumpkin weigh-off this year, and it’s going to be called the Howard Dill Classic.” This, of course, is named after the creator of the Atlantic Giant, who passed away in 2008.

In addition to helping with this event, Vanessa Roberts is also the Manager of Community Economic Development for the regional municipality of West Hants. She’s worked with the town of Windsor for 25 years. Having experienced the community’s passion for racing across the lake in overgrown fruit, she is confident that the Windsor Pumpkin Regatta will return in full swing as soon as it is possible to do so.

“We will be back bigger and better next year!” she promised.

If you want to see the giant pumpkin boats for yourself, plan a trip to Nova Scotia for whenever the border reopens and the Pumpkin Regatta is safe to start up again. There are plenty of special stories that originated from this community. The Dill Family Farm is said to be the birthplace of hockey, and the nearby town of Kentville has Pumpkin People, its own seasonal event. In the meantime, we’ll be thinking of our neighbors in Canada and hoping that despite the circumstances, they can make the most of this fall season.