images01Chinese History

Dragon boat racing originated in China more than 2,500 years ago. What began as an attempt to save a beloved statesman and poet from a river suicide has grown into a cultural celebration in cities worldwide. 

Long, narrow boats made of fibreglass or teak hold 20-22 paddlers, a drummer, and a steersperson. On festival days, paddlers decorate the boats with colourful dragon heads and tails. 

Dragon Boat Festivals display cultural diversity and usually include music, dancing, and martial art demonstrations.

Canadian History

Dr. Don McKenzie, a sports medicine physician at the University of British Columbia, launched Abreast In A Boat in 1996. He wanted to test the myth that repetitive upper-body exercise in women treated for breast cancer encouraged lymphedema. Instead, Dr. McKenzie believed that women could avoid lymphedema by following a unique exercise and training program and enjoy full, active lives. 

As they followed Dr. McKenzie’s program, participants were carefully monitored by a sports medicine physician, a physiotherapist, and a nurse. As a result, Dr. McKenzie’s theory was proven correct. No new cases of lymphedema occurred, and none of the existing cases became worse.

A medical study involving one boat of 25 women in 1996 has grown to include five boats based in Vancouver. It also inspired the formation of many other teams in Canada and around the world.


Our History

By Laura Connolly 

It happened by word of mouth.

  • Suzan Morgan talked with her oncologist, Dr. Peter Geggie, about the hype and research coming out of Vancouver about Breast Cancer and Dragon Boat paddling.
  • Dr. Geggie introduced her to another patient, Kelly Bryan, a paddler on Canadian Air’s Dragon boat team.
  • Canadian Air paddled out of the Calgary Canoe Club
  • Kathleen Kranenburg, a Canadian Women’s National Dragon Boat Team member, paddled out of the Calgary Canoe Club and became one of the first coaches.
  • Kathleen’s mother, Vicki Kranenburg, was on the Board of the Alberta Breast Cancer Society.
  • Vicki applied for and secured a start-up grant for a team of $10,000.
  • Word travelled to patients, doctor’s offices, and support groups like Wings of Hope and Young Women’s Support Group.
  • I received a call from a nursing classmate who worked in a GP’s (General Practitioner) office:

“Do you want to go paddle a boat?”
I wondered if I would get wet.

  • Nov 1997, fifteen women met at the Alberta Breast Cancer Society office to organize and choose a name.
  • SISTERSHIP was born!