History and Culture

Ottawa hosts world's largest ice dragon boat race

2018-02-10 14:11:00 (Beijing Time)         Xinhua


For nearly a quarter-century, Ottawa has been the site of North America's largest annual dragon-boat festivals, which builds on a Chinese tradition of racing boats adorned with dragon heads and tails that dates back more than two millennia.

Officially called the Tim Hortons Ottawa Dragon Boat Festival - named after Canada's famous coffee-and-doughnut chain, which sponsors the event - the annual summer race attracted 80,000 attendees and 200 teams consisting of 22 paddlers per boat last year.

With that tremendous draw and Ottawa's periodic status this winter as the world's coldest capital city, it struck Zhongyi Luo, president of the International Ice Dragon Boat Federation (IIDBF) based in the southern Chinese seaport city of Dalian, that Ottawa should create a wintertime version of its hugely successful summertime spectacle.

In 2016, Luo invited John Brooman, president and chief executive officer of the Tim Hortons Ottawa Dragon Boat Festival and a vice-president of the IIDBF, to meet him in Hungary to pitch his idea and have Brooman see a short, two-hour-long ice dragon boat race. The organizer of the Ottawa summer dragon-boat race was sold on the concept and last year launched the Ottawa Ice Dragon Boat Festival during the capital city's annual Winterlude celebration.

Sixty teams of 12 paddlers per boat competed in 2017. This year' s event, which will be held on Saturday, will feature 100 teams with the same number of participants since the boats are smaller than those used in the summer and given the frozen surface, the paddlers use long poles fitted with flat-studded bases to propel across the ice.

An extra day was also added to this year' s event, with entertainment, including a Chinese lion dance, on the schedule for Friday.

"We are not only North America' s first ice dragon boat festival, but now also the world' s largest," Brooman, a recreational sailor, told Xinhua in an interview Friday.

There are no similar festivals in Europe, although delegations from France and the Netherlands are in Ottawa to witness how the races are run. And there are no other ice dragon-boat race events in North America, although a group from Los Angeles - of all places - is exploring the idea of running its own version, but presumably indoors given the southwestern U.S. city' s ice-free winters.

An ice area of at least 60 meters wide and 300 meters long is required to accommodate the kind of competitive race held in Ottawa, explained Brooman, who added that the winter sport, which could be on the roster at the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing, requires great skill and finesse.

"It's an art and it's very graceful," he said. "But it's also extraordinarily physical and difficult for paddlers to pound the ice with their poles."