Annual Dragon Boat festival decends on Nanaimo harbour

Save-On-Foods Dragon Boat Festival starts this Friday

An eyeless beast slumbers, filled with fire and strength, waiting for a brush stroke that will awaken it and infuse its power into the assembled dragonboaters.

The beast, a dragon, will be roused by Taoist priests performing the Dotting of the Eye ceremony at the Save-On-Foods Dragon Boat Festival Friday (July 8). The ancient ritual is performed at similar festivals around the globe and signifies the emergence of the creature’s spirit and the transference of its strength to the paddlers.

The dragon’s strength is mirrored in the courage and perseverance of cancer survivors and their supporters that assemble each year to compete and make a difference in the lives of women fighting breast cancer.

The paddlers’ journey ends Sunday evening at the closing ceremonies, but before that last drum beat echoes across the waves, they gather for the annual Dairyland Carnation Ceremony to celebrate the lives of survivors, support women fighting the disease and honour those who have perished.

“That is something that moves me time and time again – to see the powerful emotions and the commitment these women have to fight the disease,” said Bob Buchanan, president of the Nanaimo Dragon Boat Festival. “Our entire festival is built around recognizing and supporting those afflicted by breast cancer and those who courageously fight the fight and those who have lost the fight.”

The festival continues to grow and has transformed into a public festival. It is now recognized as one of the largest festivals on the West Coast, said Buchanan.

This year’s theme is Caribbean Carnival.

“It will be bright, colourful and loud,” said Karen Addison, marketing and event coordinator for the festival.

Back this year is the centre stage entertainment, where people can listen to bands such as Braeden Marshal, Chasing Satellites and musicians from Headliners School of Performing Arts. There are activities for children, food vendors and a beer garden.

The festival is volunteer-run and the society donates all net proceeds to the Nanaimo and District Hospital Foundation for diagnostic equipment. Since the festival began in 2003, it has raised about $434,000 for the foundation and hopes to bring that total to $500,000 by the end of this year.

Organizers expect nearly 100 paddling teams, about 2,500 paddlers, from across North America to compete.

The ninth annual Save-On-Foods Dragon Boat Festival is July 8-10 at Maffeo Sutton Park. Opening ceremonies begin at 3 p.m. Friday at Swy-a-lana Lagoon.

For a full schedule of events and more information, please go to