They were first brought to British Columbia from Hong Kong to help celebrate Expo ‘86. Now a unique fleet of teak dragon boats is getting a second lease on life to help mark another major event: Canada’s 150th birthday.
The nine boats were left to deteriorate under a Vancouver bridge but have been brought back to life in Salmon Arm, B.C.
It all started when Ted Crouch with the Shuswap Association for Rowing and Paddling replied to a for-sale ad for the boats around two years ago. At that point, the vessels were in rough shape and no longer sea worthy.
“They had a lot of cracks, a lot of breaks, a lot of paint peeling,” recalled Crouch.
The boats were originally brought to Vancouver for Expo ’86, but after around two decades of use, they were decommissioned and put into storage under the Burrard Bridge. The wooden boats were shelved because they had become taxing for the volunteer-run Chinese Cultural Centre Dragon Boat Association to maintain, while fibreglass boats were becoming more popular.
The Chinese Cultural Centre Dragon Boat Association, which owned the boats, ended up donating the vessels to the restoration project. In exchange, they will get one of the restored boats back.
“They had one individual who offered to buy them but said that he would cut them up and use them for furniture. They didn’t want that. Our offer was to bring them back to the community where I thought we would be able to gather enough individuals to restore the boats and put them back for use,” said Crouch.
That’s exactly what they’ve done. Under the tutelage of a retired log-home builder with experience restoring wooden boats, a crew of people taking part in a government work experience program have put in about 1,200 hours into the restoration of each boat.
Wing Wong with the Chinese Cultural Centre Dragon Boat Association is impressed with the results.
“The dragon boats have been restored to better than new,” said Wong.
However, there is still more work to do. Restoration work is continuing on three of the boats from Hong Kong, as well as a fleet of Taiwanese dragon boats.
The plan is to show many of the restored boats at a wooden dragon-boat festival this summer celebrating another milestone: Canada’s 150th anniversary.