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Opinion: Bill Walton, Winter Warriors

What do dragon boaters do in winter?
Winterlude photo

Just when you, my column readers, thought you would not read another article about my favourite team, the Warriors of Hope, here we are again. But bear with me because this is about more than breast cancer survivors paddling (picking) on the Rideau River during Ottawa’s Winterlude.

Winterlude in Ottawa is not when the Members of Parliament take a break from their shouting at each other – I mean debating – it is when the City of Ottawa rolls out the white carpet for a little fun in the snow. The Winterlude website claims there are 421 ‘events’ during the two weeks in February but one of our keen dragon boaters saw ‘The BeaverTails Ottawa Ice Dragon Boat Festival competition on the Rideau Canal Skateway at Dows Lake on February 3 and 4’.

It may have been the word ‘competition’ that caught her eye but the website looked like a whole lot of fun. Curiosity about how anyone could paddle a dragon boat on the frozen Rideau was soon evident from videos of a short dragon boat on blades with 10 laughing pickers, a drummer and a steersperson. Was this not another opportunity to show that breast cancer survivors can have an active life after treatment?

A survey was issued asking how many Warriors (and Associates) would be interested in the Winterlude Ice races. The small caveat was that the team had no budget for this so we had to cover the costs ourselves (the Team coffers are low because of Covid years), and it did not, apparently, have anything to do with breast cancer awareness.

We found enough paddlers (pickers) and registered as a Breast Cancer Survivor Team. We were team 96 out of a possible 100 teams.

Reading about Ottawa’s Winterlude brought back memories of North Bay’s Winter Carnival.  Research found a history of our efforts at winter fun and entertainment.

Apparently 1977 was a ‘financial disaster’ and there ended our fun in the snow. A revival in city pride was tried in the warmer summer with the Heritage Festival, but again, a ‘financial disaster’ ended any serious effort of fun on the sand and water.

No doubt the City of Ottawa throws some funds at Winterlude, but an event that draws people, not only from Ontario and Quebec but from around the world (their website claims), must have financial support from businesses. Often discussed at the local coffee shops back then, was the seeming failure of our local businesses to support the Winter carnivals and the summer Festivals.  

Whether this is true or not, we 20 Ice Warriors and supporters are going to take our dollars to Ottawa for race registration, hotel rooms, meals, and likely a little shopping. It causes one to wonder if North Bay with lots of ice and snow is not missing an opportunity.

We have hockey, curling, snowmobiling, ice fishing, skiing, and skating, not to mention a casino, hotels and restaurants. We might even find a bakery to make some beavertails pastries – which we Warriors are definitely going to try in Ottawa.

Finally, the Winter Warriors (we branded ourselves, complete with toques, for the Winterlude) received an email from the event organizers that there are now 7 Breast Cancer Survivor teams and they are creating a separate division for us!  When we return in February watch for our web page and Facebook page for photographic proof that breast cancer survivors can have a very active life after cancer.

Paddles (pickers) up!

Bill Walton

About the Author: Bill Walton

Retired from City of North Bay in 2000. Writer, poet, columnist
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