Dragon Boat racing is a centuries old tradition, dating back to ancient China. Back then, the race was continuously held as a part of festivals and celebrations, and, while times have changed, it still remains an important part of many communities today.
In Barrie, the Dragon Boat Festival has been hosted by the Barrie Public Library since 2003 as a fundraiser for the library and other local charities, says Melissa Foster, Marketing and Special Projects Co-ordinator for the Barrie Public Library. Even though Barrie’s Dragon Boat Festival has seen continued success over the years, Foster says that one of the great things about the race is how little it has changed. “We have teams that have been with us since the start, and we still see the same passion and excitement each year,” she says.
Supporting the Community
As a registered charity, the Barrie Public Library has seized the chance to promote and support other local charities. “Over the past fifteen years, more than $1.85 million has been raised for over sixty charities in Barrie and area,” says Foster. Foster is quick to note that this success comes as a result of the community coming together, including the civic leaders, paddlers, sponsors, donors, volunteers, library staff, and businesses who are a part of the festival.
Besides fundraising for the community, festival participants have helped build a greater sense of community in the race itself. “We recently asked our Festival’s Facebook followers about their favourite memory from past festivals, and we received some heartwarming responses,” says Foster. “One paddler’s favourite memory was having the doctor that started Hospice Simcoe introduce himself to her, ask to take a photo with her, and find out why she picked Hospice Simcoe as her charity.” Such connections underline the significant community-building opportunities that the Dragon Boat Festival promotes.
The Dragon Boat Festival begins at 7:00am on Saturday, August 25th with the Awakening the Dragon Ceremony. During this ceremony, “the eyes of the dragon heads on each boat are painted while the history of Dragon Boat racing is read aloud to a chorus of hand drums,” says Foster. The first heat begins just before 8:00am and races continue until 5:00pm. Four teams race at a time through several heats, and each race takes about two and a half minutes. The winners are recognized at an awards ceremony late Saturday afternoon. Meanwhile, there’s a little something for everyone to enjoy during the day. Live music runs from 11:00am to 4:00pm, and there are crafts and face painting for the kids. Be sure to check out their food trucks, local vendors, and beer garden.
If you’re thinking about wrangling up a team, the Barrie Public Library welcomes new participants! “We have many returning teams each year, but it’s always great to see new faces,” says Foster. For those who are new to the sport, the library is working with the Dragon Boat Barrie club to offer free Learn-to-Paddle sessions every Tuesday night. “Participants learn what Dragon Boat racing is all about and master some new techniques,” says Foster.
Still nervous about picking up a paddle? “The Barrie Dragon Boat Festival is not just for the paddlers, it’s a community festival,” says Foster. “The energy at the festival is really something you have to experience. There is so much excitement and positivity in the air. It’s a beautiful example of an entire community coming together.”
by Emily Bednarz