Leah Fearman has landed the summer job of a lifetime – organizing the Barrie Dragon Boat Festival.

The post-grad Georgian College student, currently in the fundraising and resource development program, is the Barrie Public Library summer intern. She chose the library because of its unique and interesting programs.

“I’ve always found it to be very inviting and welcoming,” said Fearman, a Barrie resident. “It’s an amazing opportunity – it’s a really interesting learning opportunity.”

The library started the Barrie Dragon Boat Festival in 2003 to strengthen community spirit and raise funds, for the library as well as local charitable and not-for-profit organizations. Since then, the festival has raised more than $1.75 million for Barrie and area charities. For the businesses and organizations participating in the races, it can also be a team-building sport.

“Usually they come up with fun names, dress up or get team t-shirts going,” said Fearman. “Some wear something wacky. It depends on what the teams want to wear. They have fun with it.”

Canadian Forces Recruiting Group HeadQuarters has named its team, Dragon Behind, while the library itself chose Dragon Tales for its team. The Epilepsy Simcoe County dragon boaters are known as the Pirates of the Epilep’seas and the team from Grove Park Home is called The Geri-Antics.

Each team consists of 20 paddlers who row in pairs, a steerperson and a drummer, to keep everyone paddling at tempo and in unison. Teams race four boats at a time in heats, multiple races per heat until a winner is declared at the end of the day.

They race on Kempenfelt Bay. Drawing an average of 3,000 people per year, it’s a lot of fun for spectators. The event is also geared to families with children’s activities, shopping at the local vendors or enjoying live entertainment at the beer garden.

This year’s festival is expected to draw 50 teams. Registration is open until Aug. 1.

“We have quite a few returning teams,” said Fearman, citing Catulpa Community Support Services as a frequent participant as is Grove Park Home. “Teams say it is very rewarding, fun and a community building experience – the teams have to work really well together.”

The day begins with registration at 6:30 a.m., followed by Awakening the Dragon ceremonies at 7 a.m. and a team captain meeting at 7:20 a.m. The races begin at 7:49 a.m. An awards ceremony is slated for the end of the day, at 5 p.m. There are three community awards, one for the team showing the greatest team spirit; another for the best-dressed team; and the Bruce Saunders Rookie Team of the Year Award. In addition, there are several challenge cups, medals, divisional awards and the Barrie Champions Trophy.

The 16th Annual Barrie Dragon Boat Festival takes place at Heritage Park, Kempenfelt Bay, from 8 a. m. to 6 p.m. on Aug. 25. Admission is free. Visit barriedragonboatfestival.ca for more information.


Photo: Teams of paddlers gather at Barrie’s waterfront for the Barrie Dragon Boat Festival Aug. 25

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