Paddles Up!

In the summer of 2012 the Galt Museum & Archives presented “Champions & Challenges in Sports”, an exhibition exploring the challenges and successes of local sports personalities including athletes, coaches and managers, officials, sponsors, game announcers, casual athletes, and fans. This month we present the sport of dragon boating.

When dragon boating season begins, hundreds of paddlers, steers, drummers, and coaches gear up for fun on the water. Originating in China more than 2,500 years ago, the sport has become a popular recreational activity around the world. Physiologist Dr. Donald McKenzie from UBC launched the first breast cancer survivor team in 1996 in Vancouver as a way for women to regain muscle strength and normalcy after surgery and treatments. In Lethbridge, dragon boating started with a group of women recovering from breast cancer. Before the Rotary Club purchased and donated official dragon boats, Abreast of ‘bridge and other local teams paddled in voyageur canoes. The four local Rotary Clubs and ATB Financial then stepped forward to sponsor a festival on Henderson Lake which started in 2002. By 2011 the local festival grew to be the largest in Alberta.

Karen Collin joined the sport as a team building activity with other City of Lethbridge employees in 2002. A founding member of Team ID (“Impavidus Draconis” or Fearless Dragon), she paddled with the team for several years prior to becoming assistant coach. In an effort to improve the skills of local dragon boaters, Dave Hunt and Karen agreed to become Head Coaches for the Lethbridge Festival, and have since achieved accreditation. They train paddlers, drummers, and sweeps to help them improve techniques, keep them safe on the water, and help them avoid injuries. They have also assisted people to overcome fears of water and of water birds.

Dragon boating is a sport with great camaraderie which develops through practices and expands during the festivals. Many teams in Lethbridge continue to get together year round to work out and socialize. Good luck to all the teams participating in this week’s Festival!

On July 9, a Café Galt presentation will look at how another sport, lacrosse, became tied to nationalist ambitions, and will focus on the 1920s team the Native Sons of Canada. For details, visit