It has been 20 years since dragon boats first took over the waters of Ramsey Lake.
In 2000, the Sudbury Canoe Club and the Chinese Heritage Association of Northern Ontario joined forces to celebrate the Chinese culture and promote activity through the dragon boat races. Over the 20 years, thousands of paddlers have taken on the challenge of raising money for local charities, and to compete for bragging rights.
This year, the Sudbury Dragon Boat Festival happens July 13 at Bell Park.
Richard Ranger, a member of the race committee executive, said he first became involved in the Dragon Boat races when the Health Sciences North hospital foundation was the event’s beneficiary.
"I worked at the hospital at the time and the beneficiary needed a boat, so there was a call-out to see if anyone was interested," Ranger said, at the launch of the 20th year of the Dragon Boat Festival. "I said sure, let’s do it, and I’ve been hooked ever since.”
More than $1.7 million has been raised for local charities since the festival's inception. This year, the NEO Kids Foundation has been chosen as the beneficiary.
“It’s a real honour to have such an established event, with an established board, give NEO Kids Foundation the vote of confidence to support, and I think it's a good demonstration of the community support for the cause and the vision,” said Mick Weaver, chair, NEO Kids Foundation board.
"The funds raised at the event will bring us one step closer to keeping our NEO Kids closer to home, in an environment designed specifically for their needs," said Shanna Crispo, interim executive director, NEO Kids.
Organizers are trying to increase the number of participants this year, as they do every year.
“The last couple years, we’ve had around 40 (registrations) and we’re trying to increase participation in the community and draw some crowds from down south, so we’re hoping to get at least 45 this year,” said Ranger.
The race is going to be sanctioned by Dragon Boat Canada race series, and that is what is drawing some teams from the south, he said. They will come to Sudbury so they can qualify for national championships.
There were a few other changes this year.
“One thing that people may notice is our logo is a little bit more colourful this year," Ranger said. "The design was changed a little bit, and there is talk of having some special activities at the festival to commemorate our 20th year of racing.”
Sudburians have embraced the festival either through participating or through volunteering, said Ranger.
“We’re always looking for volunteers, either at the board level, helping out with set up, the day of we require a lot of volunteers and there’s always the tear-down,” he said.