The Lightning on the Lake dates back to the summer of 1928, when the first event included races of up to five miles and boats as fast as 20 horsepower.
The Sproat Lake Motor Boat Club was formed in June 1930 with the object of expanding the event. The regattas, swimming and water sports competitions and dance, according to history compiled by Ray Nass, annually drew a large crowd.
Interest waned in the 1940s, but in 1953 the Sproat Lake Ratepayers’ Association noted a growing interest in boating and people on the water with fast boats, so they revived the regattas. Led by Frank Flitton, the association built up the Sproat Lake Regatta into one of the top fully sanctioned events in the Pacific Northwest.
The regattas were so successful, but organizers were “getting tired” despite changing leadership in 1959, so the final regatta was run in 1962.
While many of the oldtimers are gone now, there are a few, like Canadian record holder Joe Van Bergen, who remember the camaraderie and passion for the event. After years of talk, the Alberni Valley Regatta Association was formed, a 10-year permit was obtained from BC Parks to hold the event at Sproat Lake Provincial Park, and the regatta was planned.
The regatta association inherited much-needed equipment from the Fraser Valley Drag Boat Association when it folded, including a starting light tower, rescue ambulance craft, service boat and motor and a van load of other items.
The association was also successful in acquiring a land use permit from Island Timberlands for a four-acre parcel of land adjoining the provincial park, which they will be able to use as overflow for racers, said Van Bergen, who is part of the core group that has revived the event.
Admission to the regatta is by donation; organizers are not allowed to charge a set fee because the event is taking place in a provincial park. Concessions will be available at the site. No alcohol will be permitted. As parking on the site is limited, overflow parking will be at the Alberni Valley Regional Airport with free shuttle service between the airport and the lake all day.