Ask an expert - bathtubs

The bathtub race started as a fun way to celebrate Canada’s centennial in 1967 and the racing has gotten a lot faster over the years. - The News Bulletin
The bathtub race started as a fun way to celebrate Canada’s centennial in 1967 and the racing has gotten a lot faster over the years.
— image credit: The News Bulletin

What’s with Nanaimo’s obsession with bathtubs?

The Harbour City is home to the Great International World Championship Bathtub Race, the signature event of the Nanaimo Marine Festival.

The great race started as a fun way to celebrate Canada’s centennial year in 1967 and it has been a popular event ever since, said Bill McGuire, commodore of the Loyal Nanaimo Bathtub Society.

Glen Galloway, a salesman at Nanaimo Realty and member of the city’s centennial committee, which was charged with coming up with ways to celebrate Canada’s 100th birthday, suggested holding a bathtub race.

Frank Ney, chairman of the committee and future mayor of Nanaimo, gave his blessing and the sport of bathtub racing was born.

That year, around 200 “tubbers” entered the race, which began in Nanaimo harbour and ended in Vancouver, and 47 of them completed the 58-kilometre course.

“It certainly captured all the news media around the world – it was zany, it was different,” said McGuire.

And while the course has changed – the race starts at Nanaimo harbour and ends in Departure Bay – the bathtub-like boats have gotten more sophisticated and the race is now part of a three-day festival.

“We never had any idea this thing would go on for 46 years, but it has become part of Nanaimo’s culture,” said McGuire, who has been involved with the races since Day 1.

“It brings a lot of people into town. The whole town embellishes it.”

He said people come from all around the world to race on the big day, and the Nanaimo event has also inspired races in other communities, including Campbell River, Port Alberni, Victoria and other parts of the world.

People see the festival as a chance to really let their hair down, McGuire added, and what makes it a large community affair is all of the other activities that go on during bathtub weekend, including the fireworks, beer gardens, entertainment stage and parade.

“It’s not just the bathtubs anymore,” he said.

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