From Friday August 12th to Sunday 14th, join Victoria in celebrating yet another truly unique festival experience: The Victoria Dragon Boat Festival. This is the 22nd annual Dragon Boat Festival here in Victoria, and is the only one of its kind to take place in a working harbour (our inner harbour!). The festival itself features exciting dragon boat races, entertainment stages, tasty food (it wouldn’t be a Victoria festival without food trucks!) and activities for families. The festival also has a focus on fundraising, encouraging donations via the Paddlers’ Pledge Drive and the Lights of Courage Campaign to support the BC Cancer Foundation. Over the years, the festival has raised well over $600 000! Some fabulous local sponsors of the festival include Fairway Market, Vancouver Island Brewery and Island Farms.

dragon boat festival
photo courtesy of dragonboaters.org

Dragon boat racing began in China over 2000 years ago. Legend says that the original festival began as an attempt to rescue Qu Yuan. Qu Yuan was a popular government minister in the southern state of Chu in China who, upon being banished by the king, committed suicide by wading into a river. When the citizens heard about his suicide, they paddled their fishing boats out into the river to try and save Qu Yuan, beating drums and splashing water with their paddles to keep fish and evil spirits away from his body and scattered rice in the water to keep Qu Yuan from starving. Unfortunately, it was to no avail. Late one night, Qu Yuan’s spirit appeared before his friends and told them that a huge river dragon ate all of his rice. He asked his friends to wrap their rice into three-cornered silk packages (now known as zongzi, a traditional dish of rice wrapped in leaves) and throw them into the water to ward off the dragon. This is how dragon boat festivals began, with paddlers rowing out, beating their drums and throwing zongzi into the river, on the anniversary of Qu Yuan’s death.

photo courtesy of chinese.culturextourism.com
Chinese Dragon Boat Festival

While the tradition of dragon boat festivals has been around for over 2000 years, competitive races did not really begin until the 1970s. In competitive races the paddlers no longer throw rice into the water, but they still have a drummer that sits at the front of the boat to beat a cadence for the paddlers.

There are many opportunities to get involved with the Dragon Boat Festival, from volunteering to spectating. If you would like to make a donation to the BC Cancer Foundation, you can also participate in the Lights of Courage. Buy a paper lantern from a Fairway Market or Denny’s Restaurant in Victoria, or from the BC Cancer Foundation tent at the festival. You can write a message on the tag as a tribute to anyone you know who has been touched by cancer. On Saturday night, you are then given the opportunity to bring your lantern down to the Inner Harbour to light up and display along with thousands of others.