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Nanaimo Dragonboat Festival tries to stay afloat as Victoria move announced

Fairway Gorge Paddling Club moves Nanaimo’s two-day regatta to Victoria
Local organizers intend hold a one-day dragonboat race in Nanaimo after Nanaimo Dragon Boat Festival organizers announced they are moving this year’s event to Victoria. (News Bulletin file photo)

The Nanaimo Dragonboat Festival isn’t sunk, even though organizers have decided not to hold this year’s event in Nanaimo.

The Fairway Gorge Paddling Club, in a press release Wednesday, March 27, announced that it will be moving this year’s Nanaimo event to Victoria and calling it the South Island Dragonboat Festival.

Holly Wylie, owner of the Nanaimo Paddling Centre, said paddlers in central and north Island are “very, very upset” about the decision, but added that efforts are already in the works to try to hold a one-day, scaled-down version of the Nanaimo Dragonboat Festival.

“It wouldn’t be the scope of years past,” she said. “It’s going to be about getting the racing in and about keeping it in our community … You can move a festival to another venue and call it all you want, but it’s still not our community event.”

Other groups involved in trying to put on a Nanaimo event July 13 include the Angels Abreast team and V.I. Paddling. Wylie said those involved will know more after a meeting with the City of Nanaimo next week.

“It’s a lot of work to pull together in this short period of time, no matter how many hands you have,” she said.

In it press release, Fairway Gorge Paddling Club cited rising costs and absence of “crucial government grants” as reasons behind the decision to move the festival.

The non-profit, Victoria-based FGPC stepped in to take over the Nanaimo festival in March of 2022.

Eric Ages, FGPC general manager, said in the release, “we accepted responsibility for the Nanaimo festival on short notice … at considerable financial and operational risks to our organization.”

He acknowledged the City of Nanaimo and the province provided support for the 2022 festival, but noted that in 2023, grants and sponsorships for public events were reduced and cost pressures have become increasingly challenging.

“Insurance, licensing, security and compliance costs continue to increase – in some cases by more than 50 per cent over the past 24 months,” he said.

Ages said production costs of the 2024 event would have left the festival with a deficit this year in the tens of thousands of dollars and the FGPC can’t put its operations and programs in jeopardy to absorb cost increases of that scale. By relocating the two-day regatta to the Gorge Waterway in Victoria, the organization can ensure a full weekend of racing and break even financially, the release noted.

READ ALSO: Paddlers fast at 20th dragon boat festival in Nanaimo harbour

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