How We Started
Avalon Dragon Boating started in the spring of 2006 when breast cancer activist and fundraiser, Betty Ann Vater, formed a team of friends and colleagues to bring dragon boating to Newfoundland and Labrador. At that time, Newfoundland and Labrador was one of only two provinces without a dragon boating team.
By the end of October, the group announced their presence in the community with an exciting kick-off at the Johnson Geo Centre in St. John's and a call to breast cancer survivors to join our team. Within months, nearly 60 women in the area had joined Avalon Dragon Boating.
Early in 2007, construction began on the first dragon boat. Under the patient and supportive direction of naval architect Bruce Whitelaw, the team sawed and hammered their way towards the water. On May 28, 2007, a keel laying ceremony was held at MacDonald Drive Junior High School in St. John's, the site of the Avalon Dragon Boating ‘boat yard’. In keeping with maritime tradition, Bruce and all of the team members signed the keel. Two coins were embedded into the keel for good luck. The team chose to use two special edition breast cancer ribbon quarters issued by the Royal Canadian Mint in 2006.
We voted to call ourselves the Avalon Dragons and on July 8, 2008, our President Julie Bettney, together with Paradise Mayor Ralph Wiseman, announced our new home – beautiful Octagon Pond in Paradise. Mayor Wiseman called us ‘the brightest stars in Paradise’.
At that same press conference, we launched our pink practice boat, bought for us and donated by three wonderful sponsors: Rennie So - owner of the Magic Wok restaurant in St. John’s, Terri Andrews - president of Tada Events and co-producer of the ‘Our Divas’ shows (and one of our terrific coaches), and Sheilah Guy Murphy - Terri’s co-producer.
It was either swim out to the boat or build a dock, so team member Barb Wakeham sprung into action, expediting building permits. The Newfoundland and Labrador Road Builders Association took charge of site preparation, set up a trailer for storing our boats, and built us two beautiful docks.
Friday, August 8, 2008, after just a few weeks of practice, we flew to Halifax where we boarded two buses for New Glasgow to take part in our first festival competition. We were treated like honoured guests by our hosts and did not disappoint in our races. We came second in one and third in a nearly photo finish in another. We celebrated, we shed tears on the water during the moving rose petal ceremony, and we became even closer as team members and friends.
On a sunny Sunday, September 14, 2008, together with 500 well-wishers, we launched our beautiful wooden boat. With music, speeches, dragon dancing, and a traditional ceremony to awaken the dragon - our wooden boat gracefully glided over the pond for the first time.