(This story is sponsored by Dragon Boat BC.)
In only a few weeks, the Concord Pacific Dragon Boat Festival returns to Vancouver but for the first time ever, it won’t just be along the shores of False Creek. From September 18 to 26, visitors will have the chance to celebrate the spirit of dragon boat through free programming at different sites around the community. Plus, after a two-year pause, dragon boat teams will return to the water and race at the continent’s flagship racing event on September 25 at Concord Pacific Place.
While the event typically occurs in June, the pandemic pushed Dragon Boat BC to cultivate new ways of engaging with their community at a later date.
“For us, the pandemic gave us the opportunity to reflect on what the festival means to Vancouver and how it should evolve,” says Dominic Lai, Development, Marketing, and Operations Director for Dragon Boat BC. “We started digging through our archives from the last 30 years and asked community members for their personal stories about the festival and culture. We went back to our roots and when we started piecing everything together, we rediscovered this incredible network of interconnected stories and the human side of the festival.”
Since its beginning, the festival has balanced tradition and sport. While the event always draws an impressive crowd, many have yet to learn the history behind dragon boat in Vancouver. This year, visitors to the festival will have an opportunity to learn about dragon boat’s origins.
Instead of only holding a multi-day racing event at False Creek, the festival’s programming this year will expand to include exhibits at the BC Sports Hall of Fame and Chinese Canadian Museum. Dragon Boat BC will also be hosting guided walking tours with Cross Cultural Walking Tours to explore the intercultural connections between different communities around Strathcona and a cultural festival in partnership with Dr. Sun Yat Sen Classical Chinese Gardens to mark the Mid-Autumn Festival. A range of virtual programs will also connect the paddling community around the world to Vancouver, where dragon boat originally began in Canada.
“There are stories behind dragon boat in China that date back thousands of years but it developed more of a global sporting appeal in Hong Kong, before making its way to Vancouver” says Lai. “By having people paddle together in the same boat, they’ll be exposed to each other’s stories. It’s the intersection of culture, community, and sport that make the dragon boat festival so unique.”
The festival usually includes teams from the United States, Hong Kong, Germany, Australia, China, and the Philippines. But this year, all of the participating teams will be local.
Back in 1986, Vancouver was experiencing cultural tensions, similar to those experienced during the pandemic. In an effort to connect the community, the local Chinese community worked with Hong Kong to secure six teak boats for exhibition races at Expo 86 for Canada’s first ever dragon boat races.
The festival has become a mainstay in Vancouver, especially because of its size and uniqueness. While this year’s event looks different, Dragon Boat BC is already planning the 2022 festival in anticipation of when things might look more normal. In the interim, this year’s festival is being held with protocols to make sure the community can safely come together.
“If you go back to the roots of the dragon boat festival in China, it was a way for different communities to come together through art, performances, and competition. We feel that what we’re doing now is the natural evolution of that tradition. Though it’ll look different this year, we’re taking this time to set the stage for what comes next,” says Lai.
Over the past three decades, the festival has evolved to continually reflect our modern community while also embracing traditional Chinese culture. It’s since become much more than a paddling competition.
“Ultimately, we want to create a more inclusive community where people feel they belong. It’s important that we welcome all of Vancouver’s different communities, providing a space where people can come together and share their stories,” says Lai.
On September 25 during the Championship Weekend at Concord Pacific Place, festival attendees can also visit two new cultural pavilions and enjoy performances from a range of artists that represent the community. For the 102.7 THE PEAK Main Stage artist lineup, click here.
Visit www.concorddragonboatfestival.ca for festival information and safety protocols.