Windsor Shad Derby History
Fifty-six years ago when the Windsor Rod and Gun Club, under the direction of John Cardillo, first became concerned about cleaning up the Connecticut River, the club staged a one-day fishing contest aimed at drawing attention to what the river had to offer. That former one-day event has grown into a month-long festival, with eight civic groups sponsoring the activities.
Since that time, thousands of anglers have participated in the annual Windsor Shad Derby. Fishermen come to Windsor from neighboring states, and as far as Delaware, to enjoy fishing along the river’s banks during the Shad Run. The shad swim up the Connecticut River, pass through tributaries such as the Farmington and spawn there. Most of the fish, except the young ones who stay until late fall, remain about six weeks before they head down the Connecticut River to the Sound, then north in the Atlantic Ocean to Canada’s maritime provinces.
In 1966 as the Derby grew in size, the Chamber of Commerce joined forces with the Rod and Gun club to promote the town of Windsor and its businesses to those attending the fishing event. 1966 also saw the establishment of the Shad Derby Coronation Ball. A queen was selected to reign over various festivities. This year we will select our Forty-fourth queen.
A longstanding tradition was begun in 1970 with distribution of numbered medallions and pins for Shad Derby volunteers. These valued medals are distributed during the Shad Derby Gala.
As the Derby grew, so did the need for volunteers, resulting in the Shad Derby seeking the addition of the Jaycees. In 1972, they organized and assumed the responsibility for the Parade and Green activities. The Shad Fest Bureau was officially chartered with the State of Connecticut on May 7, 1975. This was the culmination of many years of planning and work on the part of organizations sponsoring the Derby. The Bureau was chartered to control and organize Shad Derby activities as well as determine policy and develop financial support for the Festival.
Each year the Shad Fest Bureau appoints coordinators for various events. The charter members of the Bureau were the Rod and Gun Club, the Chamber of Commerce, the Jaycees, and the Junior Woman’s Club. Additional organizations could be invited to join the Bureau by unanimous approval of the charter members.
In 1980, the Lion’s Club joined the Shad Fest Bureau and introduced the Arts Festival. They were followed by the Kiwanis Club whose Runner’s Road Race has become a popular event. In 1982, the Civitan club came aboard and assumed responsibility for the Queen’s Float in the annual parade. And in 2008, Windsor Freemasons was approved by the Shad Fest Bureau and sponsors CHIP (Connecticut Child Identification Program) held on Shad Derby day.
During the last several years, the Derby has experienced rapid growth. In 1984, the Junior Woman’s Club established the “Mary Ellin Messina Community Service Award” for queen candidates. The Windsor Jaycees established the Sheila Schmidt Fishing Derby at Washington Park, and the Chamber of Commerce sponsors a Blood Drive. A “new tradition” was also started in 1997 with production and sale of the Strong House, the first in a series of wooden replicas of Windsor’s historical buildings. The profits from the sale of these replicas help defray the cost of various Shad Derby activities.
From a simple beginning, the Shad Derby Festival evolved into an annual event by Windsor citizens, their neighbors and many participating organizations. A spirit of unity and accomplishments has also grown. It is in this spirit that we hope to continue to make Windsor a great place to live.
Windsor Shad Derby Parade Committee Windsor,Connecticut