Dragon Boat Festivals – “Duan Wu Jie” in Chinese — are traditionally celebrated on the fifth day of the fifth month of the Chinese lunar calendar. Most believe dragon boat festivals were established to commemorate a great Chinese patriot poet, Qu Yuan.
In Victoria, the annual Dragon Boat Races and Festival are an enormous celebration of Chinese culture and life that bring thousands downtown to the Inner Harbour. More than seven dozen teams from Victoria, Vancouver Island, the Gulf Islands and throughout North America compete in elaborately decorated “dragon boats” with teams of paddlers.
The Festival begins at 1:00 p.m. on Friday, August 15th, with the traditional Eye Dotting ceremony at Ship Point, just below the Tourist Information Centre on the Inner Harbour and directly in front of the Empress Hotel.
Taoist priests will “awaken of the dragon” in an ancient rite that precedes every dragon boat festival all over the world. To “awaken” the dragon boats, red paint is dabbed on the eyes on each dragon boat’s “blind” figure. The priests lead dignitaries down to the water’s edge, where the dragon boats await. The guests take brushes in hand, dip them in pots of red cinnabar paint, and then dab the eyes on the “blind” figurehead of each dragon boat. According to Chinese mythology, the dragon sleeps in the mountains and travels to the water once awoken.
Following the ceremony, there will be entertainment and performances on the outdoor stages set up at Ship Point From 5:00 to 9:00 pm, hundreds of Chinese paper lanterns will be illuminated and displayed on the Festival site in a show of support for those who are fighting, have beaten, or have succumbed to cancer.
On Saturday, August 16th, the Dragon races begin at 8:00 a.m. The different teams will race down the 500-metre-long racecourse, from Laurel Point to the Royal London Wax Museum. At 12:15 p.m., the fittest and fastest senior teams will race in the Grand Dragon Challenge… showing the younger racers how it’s done. The best place to view the races is from the bleachers arranged along Ships Point. (Click on the video below to see the 2007 races.)
The races continue Sunday, August 17th, again beginning at 8:00 a.m. The finals will take place starting at 1:00 pm, with the fastest teams of the Festival duking it out in the final heat – around 4:15 pm.
All weekend, you can catch free, live entertainment at the Dragon and Forbidden City Stages as well as sample Asian delicacies at the Forbidden City food court.
Victoria’s historic Chinatown is the oldest Chinatown in Canada. To see a panoramic view of this beautiful and historic district, click here.