British Columbia

Original EXPO '86 dragon boat on display at Vancouver festival

One of six dragon boats that were donated from Hong Kong to Vancouver during Expo '86 will be on display at this year's Vancouver Dragon Boat Festival.

'It's both an artifact and a way that connects past tradition to modern culture'

A demonstration of a newly constructed light-weight dragon boat on June 6. (Maggie MacPherson/CBC)

One of six teak dragon boats that were donated from Hong Kong to Vancouver during Expo '86, a World's Fair, will be on display at this year's Vancouver Dragon Boat Festival at Olympic Village this weekend.

The boats introduced Vancouver to the sport and the festival is now the largest of its kind outside of Hong Kong, according to Dominic Lai, marketing and brand manager for Dragon Boat B.C. and the festival. 

"Without these boats you wouldn't really have dragon boat on this side of the world the same way it is now. So it's kind of like seeing the original hockey stick, or seeing the original baseball or prototype of a basketball," Lai told Jennifer Chen, story producer for The Early Edition

Dragon boat heads sit on a False Creek dock the day before the 2019 Concord Pacific Dragon Boat Festival in Vancouver. (Maggie MacPherson/CBC)

Recently, work has begun to restore the original boats, which weigh about 400 kilograms, and are still in use today. The one on display for the festival is 50-feet long and now back to its former glory.

"Having it in this condition is just an amazing thing to see. It's both an artifact and a way that connects past tradition to modern culture," Lai said. 

Ann Phelps, executive director of the festival, says the decision to display the boat was about reflecting dragon boating history in Vancouver. 

"We thought it would be really good way to show people where we began and what we're doing now," she said.

Lai says people that paddle on dragon boats bond with each other because of the sport and the tradition the boats represent.  (Maggie MacPherson/CBC)

Culture, tradition and sport

The dragon head at the front of the boat — which features horns, teeth and a beard — is colourful and made of fibreglass and, in some cases, plaster. The Expo '86 boat currently on display features red ribbons on the head.

The head is part of a traditional Chinese dragon lore and mythology, according to Lai. The spirit of the dragon lives in the boat.

"The red ribbon symbolizes that the boat is tamed. That it's not a wild dragon, that it's a friendly dragon."

New and old dragon boats race on False Creek in Vancouver earlier this month. (Maggie MacPherson/CBC)

Lai says people that paddle on dragon boats bond with each other because of the sport and the tradition the boats represent. 

"When you look at this boat that was hand-built over 30 years ago, you understand the craftsmanship. You understand the importance of dragon boat to the Chinese culture and the Hong Kong culture and, to certain extent now, Vancouver culture."

Dragon boats sit on False Creek the day before the 2019 Concord Pacific Dragon Boat Festival in Vancouver. (Maggie MacPherson/CBC)

Listen to the full story here:

One of six dragon boats that were donated from Hong Kong to Vancouver during Expo '86 will be on display at this year's Vancouver Dragon Boat Festival. 6:25

With files from The Early Edition and Jennifer Chen. 

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