Origins of Dragon Boating in Canada

Even as early as 1945, Canada was infected with a mild case of “dragon fever”.  In October 1945, the Mayor of Vancouver was presented with a dragon adorned silver plaque by representatives of the republican government of China immediately following the cessation of WW II in the Pacific.  Because Vancouver was the North American gateway to Asia, it could be considered as the ideal city to host the first dragon boat race outside Asia.

The proposed post-war dragon boat festival was compared to the Mardi Gras of New Orleans. Since 1946 was to be the Diamond Jubilee (60th Anniversary) of Vancouver, it was suggested that a dragon boat festival be convened to mark this occasion. However, this would have to wait until the city’s 100th anniversary in 1986 and the world transportation exposition.

In 1986 dragon boat racing was, for the first time, presented to Canada when boats were paddled at the world exposition known as Expo 86. Six boats were sent from Hong Kong to the city of Vancouver, British Columbia for use at the worlds fair, particularly during Hong Kong Day celebrations on central False Creek. That same summer, the Chinese Cultural Centre Dragon Boat Association (DBA, but initially a committee of the CCC) was formed to put on the first festival and races in Canada to use authentic dragon boats, as the local Chinese community’s project to celebrate the centennial of the founding of the city (Vancouver turned 100 in 1986 and scores of community groups organized official centennial projects.

Dragon boat racing is one of the very few such projects to go on in perpetuity, even during the 125th anniversary of Vancouver in 2011). Mason Hung of the HKTA and an IDBF Senior Vice President (2008) traveled to Vancouver in 1985 to advise the CCC race committee on organizing the inaugural competition, as he had been instrumental in developing the HK International DB Races (IDBR) throughout the 1980s.

In 1992, the then British Governor of Hong Kong, Christopher Patton, presented a teak dragon boat to the Canadian Prime Minister of the day, Brian Mulroney, to mark the close cultural, social and business ties between Hong Kong and Canada. This craft is now part of the permanent collection of the Canadian Museum of Civilization in Gatineau, Quebec. Canada reciprocated by presenting a carved cedar totem pole crafted by British Columbia First Nations members. This symbol of friendship is displayed in a park in Hong Kong.

In 1993, Dragon Boat Canada was formed and is the governing body of the sport in Canada, and a member of the IDBF.

In 1996, the first IDBF Club Crew World Championships was convened in Vancouver on the 10th anniversary of the introduction of dragon boat racing to Canada. Ten years later in 2006, Toronto hosted the 5th IDBF Club Crew World Championships on the 20th anniversary year of dragon boating in Canada. Some of Vancouver’s and Toronto’s dragon boat volunteers were instrumental in helping to establish the ‘first generation’ of Canadian festivals that had the support of the local Chinese business communities in Regina, Calgary, Edmonton, Victoria, Kelowna, Ottawa, Montreal, London, and Kingston.

1996 was also the first time for a team from outside Asia ever to win gold at the Hong Kong International Race, a Canadian men’s crew from Toronto. Ten year’s earlier a men’s crew from Vancouver was the first crew from outside Asia to have earned a silver medal at the HKIR, in 1986. Canada has been successful in winning the highest honour possible in the sport several times, the biennially challenged IDBF Nation’s Cup, which is awarded to the country that earns the highest medal count total at world championship regattas.

The first comprehensive book ever to be published in the world about dragon boat racing, festivals, and cultural history was written by a Canadian paddler in 1996, which was also the tenth anniversary of dragon boat racing in that country.

In August 2015, Canada hosted the 12th World Nations Championships, in Welland, Ontario. This was the first time for Canada to host the World Nations Championships.

Several of the larger dragon boat events outside Asia include Vancouver’s Canadian International Dragon Boat Festival in Vancouver, British Columbia, the Toronto International Dragon Boat Race Festival in Toronto, Ontario, and the Ottawa Dragon Boat Festival in Ottawa, Ontario. These three Canadian festivals each feature some 200 crews and all are held on a weekend close to the June Summer Solstice, in keeping with traditional Chinese dragon boat traditions.