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Saturday's dragon-boat festival set to raise money and take over the bay

The Barrie Public Library started the festival in 2002 as a way to raise money for the Painswick branch

The Barrie Dragon Boat Festival is taking over the waters of Kempenfelt Bay this weekend and raising lots of money for those who need it.

The 16th annual race has become a staple of the city’s waterfront calendar and from its beginning has been growing steadily into a huge event.

Chris Vanderkruys is the Barrie Public Library’s director of business development and has been with the festival for its entirety, starting as a volunteer before taking a lead role.

Vanderkruys is busy year-round, but with the library hosting the big event, August is an especially busy time for him as he oversees the lead-up to the day.

“We have 48 teams so far which is where we usually sit, between 48 and 50,” said Vanderkruys. “We’ve had up to 60 some years, but that is usually for our anniversary years; we’re very comfortable with the numbers we’ve always had and it makes for a full but fun day.”

The Barrie Public Library started the festival in 2002 as a way to raise money for the then yet-to-be-built Painswick branch.

While the festival is focused on helping to raise money for charities in the area, Vanderkruys says the Barrie Public Library has not taken its eye off the ball when it comes to helping to maintain the stability of the library.

“We continue to raise money for the library itself to improve our programming and things of that nature, as well as looking forward to the two new branches in the annexed lands,” said Vanderkruys. “The Hewitt and Salem branches will be more or less in rec centres which is, when you think about it, a very convenient spot for a library with all the activities that happen there already and the large amount of people that come and go.”

Every year sees some new faces at the registration table mixed with the ones who have become mainstays at the Heritage Park set-up.

Each team can have up to 26 members and with close to 50 teams every year, the park is a busy place. Tents are set up with snacks and games to keep everyone busy as the near 12-hour day can include some down time. There are games and prizes for best dressed and best rookie squad as well as all teams being encouraged to follow a theme; it is no wonder that some groups have been coming back for all the fun year after year.

“The normal ones who are always here, of course, are always Grove Park Home, the Canadian Cancer Society, the Royal Victoria Hospital, COPE dogs and, of course, our own team from the library,” said Vanderkruys.

“We have raised over $1.75 million for over 60 charities in the past 15 years and it is such a wide array of charities, too; whether it is for autism, cancer, cardiac care, mental health, cystic fibrosis or whatever you and your team are dedicated to helping, this is a great way to raise funds and complete a task as a team," Vanderkruys added. 

The Barrie Public Library is undoubtedly the hub of the community, with so many events each year bringing thousands through the doors annually. The dragon-boat festival was certainly something different when it was planned but Vanderkruys believes it was a no-brainer when looking at what the city has to offer.

“When you think of it, the dragon-boat festival is the only annual sporting festival we have in Barrie that’s on the water,” said Vanderkruys. “We get a lot of people who come down and watch and I think that’s the spectator appeal, too, in that this is a race in Kempenfelt Bay that you can cheer from the sidelines and get right into.

"I don’t think it will be long before more groups and organizations take advantage of the beautiful bay we have in order to raise money and host events.”

The Barrie Dragon Boat Festival takes place Aug. 25 with registration at 6:30 a.m. The festivities begin at 7 a.m. with the awakening the dragon ceremony and will continue through until closing at 6 p.m.

There is a kids zone and live music for those not participating who would like to check it out and all other information is on the website.