Next year will be the Canadian International Dragon Boat Festival Society’s 30th anniversary of having introduced magnificent teak dragon boats to local waters filled with paddlers and propelled by team spirit.
Dragon boats originated in China approximately 2,500 years ago. In the 1980s some local Chinese Canadians wanted to bring dragon boating to Vancouver. With the help of the Hong Kong Economic and Tourism Office, six teak boats were donated to the Chinese Cultural Centre and dragon boating was exhibited at Expo 86. It continued for two years with the community running it and in 1989 the Canadian International Dragon Boat Festival Society formed.
Founders Milton Wong and David Lam wanted to present an event to showcase a multicultural team sport that is colourful, fun, social and easy to get involved with.
Ann Phelps has been associated with the organization since its inception. She says with a smile, “I started with dragon boat the first year as a paddler – I was the second worst paddler in the boat.” She was hired as the society’s volunteer coordinator, worked her way up to production manager and finally became executive director, a position she has held for 15 years.
The Canadian International Dragon Boat Festival Society produces the two day Concord Pacific Vancouver Dragon Boat Festival and the one day Steveston Dragon Boat Festival. As well, it operates a number of other dragon boat and paddling events throughout the year.
“What I love about dragon boat is how it is so inclusive. We have this saying, “In a dragon boat, no one is left behind.” Ann Phelps
Ann explains, “Regardless of your talent or ability, mental or physical, there is a place for you. It’s a truly inclusive sport. It’s also social. People meet as strangers and they find lifelong friends and a love of sport. We have paddlers who are visually impaired, face mental health challenges on a daily basis or are low on financial resources. Paddlers are every size and age, from newbies to competitive. Everyone races together, works as a team, and because of it, they move the boat.”
The Steveston Dragon Boat Festival takes place on Saturday, August 26.
Now in its eighth year, Steveston was selected for its scenic location on the Fraser River and its idyllic waterfront boardwalk where spectators view the races. Ann says, “Steveston is a wonderful location. The community is very supportive and we really appreciate how they’ve welcomed us to the neighbourhood.”
Ann shares some facts for dragon boat festival attendees. Close to 1,900 paddlers and as many as 15,000 people will attend the event. The races are six lines wide and run every 10 to 15 minutes. Races begin at 8:00 a.m. and run until around 5:00 p.m. subject to weather and any delays.
This year paddlers come from Burnaby, Langley, Richmond, Surrey and Vancouver. Approximately one third of the teams are out of towners from Kelowna, Salt Spring Island, Sechelt, Vancouver Island and Washington State.
“Richmond Food Bank has a dragon boat team and is also the designated charity for the event.” Ann Phelps
Another local connection is Richmond Secondary School’s Flying Colts dragon boat team. Ann mentions, “They don’t paddle as they finish when school is over, but they volunteer at the event lead by our coordinator Owen Fan.”
Some festival highlights include an early breakfast and lunch throughout the day served by the Tsawwassen Boundary Bay Lions Club Streetside Community Kitchen to raise money for their community programs.
“New this year, Lottie’s Gelati Stand will serve gelati and espresso coffee drinks. John Wong is a local who runs Mr. Tube Steak and he makes a great hot dog. Travelling Dawg is another local food booth that will be new to us.”
What would a festival be without entertainment? The Steveston Dragon Boat Festival delivers with an array of performers taking to the World Beat stage including Canada’s only all-female mariachi band Los Estrellas de Vancouver, interactive drum group Los Tambores, the Winston Matsushita jazz quartet, hillbilly rock group The Palomars, and Nashville bound country singer Rose Ranger. In addition, site wide atmospheric entertainment includes a dragon dance and some of Circus West’s acrobats will entertain pedestrians.
Fun for little dragons (a.k.a. children) includes dragon egg decorating and dragon art. A site liquor license offers adults a chance to cool down with a beer or a glass of wine. Sponsors and community partners will provide interactive activities, free samples, and samples of new products.
What is Ann most looking forward to? “I’m really excited about the all-female Mariachi band. I think they will blow up the stage. I also like to meet the visiting paddler tourists. They are on vacation after all, so they are happy to just soak up the sun and between races they visit Steveston for a little shopping.”
Special souvenir t-shirts will be sold and funds raised will benefit the Richmond Food Bank. She reminds festival attendees that parking at Homma Elementary is by donation, with funds also benefiting the charity. The Society is thankful to sponsor Onni and to the community for its support.
To all paddlers, we welcome you to Steveston Village; we wish you smooth water and clear sky. Let the races begin!