For the second year in a row the Ottawa Ice Dragon Boat Festival has been forced to cancel their annual race at Dow’s Lake due to warm weather and unsuitable ice conditions. Despite the warmer winters, the festival is still finding ways to bring people together with their free concert series.

The festival first introduced this free concert series last winter and features dozens of Canadian musicians performing from Feb. 2-19 at The Rainbow in downtown Ottawa. John Brooman is the CEO of the Ottawa Dragon Boat Foundation and spoke to Capital Current about the return of the free concerts.

“It was such a super success last year,” Brooman said about the “Live @ The Rainbow” concert series. “We partnered with Winterlude and tried to have as many shows during the festival days as possible.”

Winter festivals are changing

Winter festivals in Ottawa are beginning to look different as the Rideau Canal Skateway opened for a total of 5 days this winter before closing down again due to warm weather and rain.

Winterlude, Ottawa’s annual winter time festival, has been significantly impacted by the popular skateway closure, not only this year but in 2023 as well, as it draws in a large portion of tourists to the city.

The unique Ice Dragon Boating event was another draw for tourists visiting the city during the Winterlude weeks. The traditional Dragon Boat is transformed into a sled with a thin blade attached the base. Team members ‘paddle’ using spikes that jab into the ice and propel the sled forward.

Footage from the first Ottawa Ice Dragon Boat race in 2019 on Dow’s Lake in Ottawa, ON. [Video provided by Ottawa Ice Dragon Boat Festival].

Richard Martin is a team member with Ottawa’s Chinatown community dragon boating team known as “Showboat” in the summer months and “Snowboat” during their winter races. Martin and his team were registered to participate in this year’s festival before the event was officially canceled on Feb. 6.

“It’s not because people are malicious it’s because there’s a safety issue,” Martin said on the cancellation.

“You need a solid piece of ice. Slushy ice isn’t going to help and the skates on the boats will sink,” Martin added.

Snowboat/Showboat” has been racing since 2002 and have raised over a quarter of a million dollars for the Ottawa Dragon Boat Foundation in the process.

““Fundraising doesn’t skip a beat, fortunately it’s not weather dependent,” Martin said as the team has already raised nearly 9,500 dollars in 2024.

Showcasing local artists

Attention is now turning to the Live@The Rainbow concert series after the race’s cancellation. The free concerts are now nearly completely sold out as people jumped online to reserve their spots, with limited free entrance at the door each evening.

Local band ‘fanclubwallet‘ will be taking to the stage Thursday Feb. 15 for one of the final nights of the festival. The group, founded in 2020, have since toured across Canada and in the United States bringing their indie rock/pop sound along with them.

The band ‘fanclubwallet’ poses in their most recent photoshoot. They will be performing in the festival’s free concert series on Thursday, Feb. 15, 2024 at The Rainbow in Ottawa, ON. [Photo courtesy of Hannah Judge].

Hannah Judge, the founder and front of the group, has been wanting to play at the Dragon Boat festival for a long time.

“My personal thoughts on Dragon Boat is that it’s so awesome that they offer these free concerts that have bigger and smaller indie artists,” Judge said.

Judge and fanclubwallet will be opening for Chris Murphy, the lead singer of the band ‘Sloan‘ another Canadian indie rock band founded in 1992. Sloan has been awarded a Juno Award in 1997 and have received 8 other nominations.

“That’s kind of a career highlight for me, to play with such a cool Canadian band who paved the indie rock road,” Judge said.

Judge is alongside other local bands, including ‘Sorry Snowman’, ‘Chemical Club’ and ‘The New Hires’, who will be taking the stage throughout the 3 weeks of the festival.

“I think it’s such a good way to get the community involved in the music scene,” Judge added. “It’s such a good way for people to find music they’ve maybe never heard before.”

Highlights from Ottawa Ice Dragon Boat Festival’s ‘Live @The Rainbow’ free concert series 2023. [Video provided by Beavertails Ottawa Ice Dragon Boat Festival]

Despite changing weather and canceled races the Ottawa Ice Dragon Boat Festival carries on and adapts with this new approach to the festival.

The teams themselves are looking ahead to the summer season where the Dragon Boats will take the water at Mooney’s Bay.

“Ultimately at the end of the day we’re at the mercy of mother nature,” Martin said. “So you know we keep our heads high, we say ‘ok so it didn’t work out this month’ but then we look forward to the summer when we all get together and we practice and we’re on the water.”