Festival History

The Ottawa Dragon Boat Festival is a not for profit founded in 1993. The organization held it’s inaugural festival in 1994 with the assistance of the Hong Kong Canada Business Association. The Festival, currently boasts 200 teams in competitive, corporate and community categories, and is one of the hottest sporting and entertainment events in the Nation's Capital.

Recognized as North America's largest dragon boating festival, the four day celebration offers free admission to concerts, amusement attractions, sports demonstrations, a variety of artisans, exhibitors, delicious culinary treats, children’s area and non-stop racing.

The Ottawa Dragon Boat Festival is made possible by the continued support of Canadian Heritage’s Building Communities Through Arts and Heritage, Celebrate Ontario and the City of Ottawa Partnership Program.

Festival Mission

To deliver North America's premiere Dragon Boat Festival. Offering visitors to and residents of Canada's Capital Region the opportunity to participate and engage in, the arts, sports, cultural, heritage and volunteer activities, significantly contributing to the tourism, economic growth, community engagement and cultural fabric of our diverse community.

Dragon Boat Tradition

The Tim Hortons Ottawa Dragon Boat 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 Festival At A Glance

  • North America’s largest dragon boat festival
  • Established in 1994
  • Original Founders are Frank Ling, President of the Asian Heritage Month Society, Warren Creates, Head of Perley-Robertson, Hill & McDougall LLP’s Immigration Law Group and Mike Chambers, President of the Canadian Olympic Committee


  • A non-profit festival with free admission to the public
  • 75,000 Attendees
  • 5,000 Paddlers
  • 200 Teams in competitive, corporate, and community categories
  • 1,500 Medals awarded
  • 25 Challenge Cup categories
  • Breast Cancer Survivor Challenge and traditional Flower Ceremony
  • Races every 10 minutes
  • A dragon boat is a slim 44’ racer with a dragon’s head at the bow and a tail at the stern
  • Each dragon boat holds 22 athletes including 20 paddlers, 1 drummer and 1 steersperson
  • Free public parking at the Canada Post parking lot
  • Free bike parking available on site