The Ottawa Dragon Boat Race Festival is part of a larger Chinese cultural tradition that goes back 2,400 years. It began on the life-sustaining riverbanks in the valleys of southern China as a fertility rite performed to ensure bountiful crops. The first participants held their celebration on the fifth day of the lunar month of the Chinese calendar. The race was held to avert misfortune and encourage the rains needed for prosperity. The object of their worship was the dragon.
Also known as Poet's Day, it commemorates the death of Qu Yuan, a poet and Minister of State during the Chou Dynasty. Qu had protested against the corrupt government and was stripped of his office as Minister of State. He wandered about the countryside, unhappy and dejected. When local fishermen realized Qu had disappeared into the river, they raced out in their boats to save him, beating drums to scare off the fish that they thought would eat his body. They also dropped rice dumplings in the water as a sacrifice to his spirit. The scene of the fishermen racing out to save Qu Yuan is reenacted every year in the form of dragon boat races.
The Ottawa Dragon Boat Race Festival began in 1993 with the assistance of the Hong Kong Canada Business Association. The first event only lasted half a day as there were only 25 teams participating. This little known sport eventually grew to be one of the hottest sporting events in the Nation's Capital and around the world.
By 2001, the sport ? which once featured only 25 teams ? had 168 teams participating in both corporate and community categories over two days, making the Ottawa Dragon Boat Festival the second largest festival in Canada.
In 1998 a charitable component was added to the festival. Since the festival brings together people from around our great community (and country), it was decided that we should do as much as possible to give back to the community. So in 1998, the "Pledge Challenge" was instituted and to date our paddlers have raised over $400,000 for local charities.
Proceeds from fundraising efforts in 2003 went to the Multiple Sclerosis Society of Canada, Alzheimer Society of Ottawa-Carleton, and the Special Needs Equipment Exchange
The Ottawa Dragon Boat Race Festival is held at Mooney's Bay Park across from the Rideau Canoe Club. The nearest intersection is Colonel By Drive and Hogs Back Road. From Riverside, go South on Hogs Back Road. From Prince of Wales Drive, go North on Hogs Back Road.