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Eye-dotting ritual breathes fire into dragon boat festival

Aug 18 2012
Members of the Evergreen Taoist Church of Canada prepare to bless the boats for the 18th annual Canada Dry Victoria Dragon Boat Festival in Victoria's Inner Harbour Friday. 

Members of the Evergreen Taoist Church of Canada prepare to bless the boats for the 18th annual Canada Dry Victoria Dragon Boat Festival in Victoria's Inner Harbour Friday.

Photograph by: Lyle Stafford , timescolonist.com (August 2012)

The eyes of the dragon boats in the Inner Harbour have been given bright red pupils - a sign that the 18th Victoria Dragon Boat Festival has begun.

On Friday, priests from the Vancouver-based Evergreen Taoist Church of Canada conducted an eye-dotting ceremony at Ship's Point.

Seven priests chanted, drummed and lit joss sticks - a type of incense - as they performed a ceremony to awaken the spirit of the dragon.

Shih Juhuang, a member of the church, said this year's festival coincides with the year of the water dragon - an event that happens once every 60 years.

"[Eye dotting] is very important for each dragon boat - to make the dragon open their eyes and make the whole boat bright," Juhuang said. "Even in a very dark ocean, they're still very bright."

More than 80 teams are participating in the dragon boat races today and Sunday.

The free event includes concerts and cultural displays in the Inner Harbour.

Along with the usual mixed and women divisions, there is a new open division this year, said Mark Grey-Dreaper, chairman of the festival's board.

Participants in the new category will be racing today at 4 p.m.

Most of the teams are from B.C. but there are more than a dozen from Portland, Oregon.

"I think Victoria and Portland has had this interesting connection, they're almost like sister cities," said Grey-Dreaper with a laugh.

"I know they're not, but maybe they should be."

New to the festival this year was a night market on Friday evening, part of a push to create more events for the public.

The lanterns that are sold as part of the Lights of Courage fundraising campaign for the B.C. Cancer Foundation were lit Friday evening - a new addition that added a ceremonial element for cancer survivors.

The race finals are Sunday at 3 p.m.

VICTORIA DRAGON BOAT FESTIVAL SCHEDULE

All events take place in the Inner Harbour.

TODAY

- 8: 30 a.m. to 4: 30 p.m. - Dragon boat races

- 2 p.m. and 3: 30 p.m. - Discover Victoria's Chinatown walking tour with John Adams

- 4 p.m. - Open division race

- 7 p.m. - Air band competition judged by MLA Ida Chong

SUNDAY

- 8: 30 a.m. to 4 p.m. - Dragon boat races

- 12 p.m. - Breast cancer survivors' ceremony and pink carnation toss

- 12 p.m. and 1: 30 p.m. - Discover Victoria's Chinatown walking tour with John Adams

- 3 p.m. - Race finals

mkaralis@timescolonist.com

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