Dragon boats represent the intersection of sport and culture in Vancouver

There are 18 new vessels, all including designs by local artists, that will be part of this year's Concord Pacific Dragon Boat Festival

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      The chair of the Vancouver park board, Stuart Mackinnon, shared an inspiring story at a recent news conference.

      It came at the unveiling of a new fleet of 18 dragon boats for the Concord Pacific Dragon Boat Festival, which will be held from June 24 to 26 at False Creek, Creekside Park, and Concord Pacific Place.

      “At the age of 50, I decided that I would like to try dragon boating,” Mackinnon revealed. “And, boy, did I love it.

      “In fact, after just a few times practising, I went back to the high school where I taught and I said, ‘I need to have our kids doing this,’ ” the veteran politician continued. “So we created the Killarney Dragons to participate—and we were welcomed!”

      This anecdote, one of many shared at the June 9 event, reflects the broad appeal of dragon boat racing, which attracts people from a multitude of cultures, age brackets, and health circumstances. There are teams comprised of breast cancer survivors, plus there are all-access teams welcoming people with disabilities.

      Niki Sharma, a former park commissioner and now the parliamentary secretary for community development and nonprofits, was also at the news conference, which was held at a Concord Pacific marketing office on the shore of False Creek. She told people there that so many Vancouverites have fond memories of seeing beautiful dragon boats being launched on the water.

      “But there’s something bigger about that,” Sharma declared. “It’s cultural connection and bringing people together and helping us bridge those gaps that help us build an antiracist and culturally strong and diverse society.”

      It’s one of the reasons why the B.C. government contributed $173,000 toward the purchase of the 18 new boats, which will be raced for the first time at this year’s festival. Concord Pacific, which has been a supporter of the event, provided a matching contribution. Concord Pacific’s president and CEO, Terry Hui, was also at the news conference. He pointed out that he’s happy that this year’s festival will be the first “full-size event” held in Vancouver since the pandemic began.

      “I’m excited to say that,” Hui said.

      Charlie Smith

      Artists' work recognized

      The Concord Pacific Dragon Boat Festival is not just an athletic event, Hui noted. He pointed out that all the new boats feature the work of local artists (Chepximiya Siyam, Debra Sparrow, Ocean Hyland, Chairman Ting, Kari Kristensen, Joslyn Reid, Bagua Artist Association, Derek Tam, and Carmen Chan).

      Plus, there’s a main stage on June 25 and 26 with a diverse lineup of local musicians performing for free, including the Zolas, Desirée Dawson, Mauvey, Tonye Aganaba, Coastal Wolf Pack, Children of Takaya, Qing Yun Music Society, and others.

      Dominic Lai, Dragon Boat BC’s development, marketing, and operations director, emphasized at the news conference that dragon boat racing has existed for thousands of years “at the intersection of sport and culture”.

      “Without culture, dragon boat just becomes a really big boat race,” Lai said. “Without sport, dragon boat becomes a giant cultural festival.

      "And so what we wanted to do was reflect our community in the true spirit of what dragon boat is—and to really bring it to the forefront—and to remind all of our races and our community that it’s not ultimately about a medal, even though a medal is great," Lai added. "It is about the connections. It’s about the community that’s been built.”

      Another politician at the event, Vancouver councillor Sarah Kirby-Yung, described the new boats as “sexy”.

      “I think it is really exciting to see the partnership and the investment in local artists,” she added.

      Bagua Artist Association members Sean Cao and Katharine Meng-Yuan Yi named their work Bedecked With Pearls and Glimmering Jade.
      Charlie Smith

      One of the artists who spoke at the news conference, Sean Cao of the Bagua Arts Association, talked about the meaning of the Bagua Artist Association’s artwork, Bedecked With Pearls and Glimmering Jade, which he created with Katharine Meng-Yuan Yi.

      “Our art practice focuses on our diasporic experience,” Cao said. “So when we were invited to create artwork for the Dragon Boat Festival, we naturally wanted to work with the festival’s cultural and historic connections.”

      The two artists were inspired by a famous Chinese poet, Qu Yuan, who inspired many dragon-boat traditions. Qu’s poem “Crossing the River” spoke of pearls, gemstones, and pendants of fine jade. According to Cao, they represented high virtues and attracted positive energy.

      “Therefore, we made a digital painting of gemstones, jade, and pearls that are connected by five colours of red, making them look like a dragon boat that is embellished with these pearls and jade,” Cao said.

      He added that the five red colours are also on traditional bracelets that people wore on the day of dragon-boat races. And the reason? It was because they brought good fortune and drove away illness.

      “That’s what we’ve needed for the past few years—driving away illness,” Cao said.

      Here's a portion of the Bagua Artist Association's work—showing pearls and gemstones—created for the Concord Pacific Dragon Festival.
      Bagua Artist Association