Ottawa Dragon Boat Festival and Foundation CEO John Brooman talks about this year’s festival

June 18th, 2016 by  |  Published in Features, Interviews

Ottawa Dragon Boat Festival - 2016 logo

I recently had the opportunity to chat with ODBF CEO John Brooman ahead of this year’s festival, which takes place June 23 to 26, 2016.

There’s been a controversy brewing in Ottawa related to a giant children’s play structure slated to be built on a section of Mooney’s Bay Park. Maybe you’ve heard about it? This section of land is one used by the Ottawa Dragon Boat Festival each year. While the proposed park has created it’s share of headaches for festival organizers, this year’s edition remains unaffected for the most part.

According to John, “We made an arrangement with the city and they have fulfilled their side of the bargain. In fact they’re pulling off the site today.”

While details remain sketchy, he did touch on the future of the festival. “It will have an impact in future years. However we’re working with the city and have a deal that we’ll be able to expand in other areas of the park and make it all work.”

Piecing together a festival with so many different elements is a lot of work. The Dragon Boat Festival is centred around the races, but also has the family zone, the charity element and of course the free concerts. I asked John how quickly work begins on the next festival when the current one comes to an end. “Immediately,” he answered. “It doesn’t stop. I’m already working on the next one right now actually. I’m working on a bunch of items with the Chinese embassy and people in China about bringing upwards of 20 teams from China for 2017.”

Our conversation then turned to the concerts and how the team went about putting together a lineup each year. John shared, “We try to stay as current as possible. Generally speaking we try to stay Canadian. Working with the grants as well, the bands are there because of government support. Without that support, there are no bands. As you said, we choose bands on availability and where they are in their touring cycle through the summer.”

With many large and well known Canadian acts gracing the stage each year, I enquired about the stress of keeping the festival free each year. “Well its a very delicate balance,” he responded. “Is there concern? Yes. We’re always trying to figure out each and every year how to keep it free and in addition to that keep it the largest successful fundraiser in the city for charity.”

5 years after the inaugural festival, a charitable component was introduced to assist local charities. 2016 will introduce a new addition to the festival’s charitable activities. “This year we are creating the Ottawa Dragon Boat Community Foundation which is essentially going to be an applicable community fund. Charities will be able to on a month by month basis, apply for small amounts depending on what they’re doing. The application will be online and we’ll be giving gifts throughout the year as we go.”

While there are no major additions to the festival activities, John did mention that this year, “We’re trying a cashless system. A partial cashless system on site, so that’s going to be interesting to see how that plays out. We’ll still have cash available.”

The surprise announcement of the new children’s park did take up quite a bit time in the planning cycle for this year’s festival. “I think the big focus for us was navigating through the whole jungle gym project. That really has taken a lot of time since February. We are really happy with the lineup and just trying to go with a really solid 4 days.”

When asked how he would keep busy during the fast approaching festival weekend, John stated, “I have a great team in place, a fantastic team. I’m able to spend a great deal of time talking with those that support us, various politicians and sponsors and funders. This year we have a group coming from china that’s taking a look at the whole festival, with the eye of bringing in these 20 teams, up to 600 people from China. So I’m going to be spending a fair bit of time with them as well.”

“On top of that we’ll be looking at bringing ice dragon boating to Ottawa in February on the canal. There will actually be an ice dragon boat on site as well for display.”

As our conversation ended, I joked with John about how often his eyes were glued to the forecast leading up to and during the festival. With a laugh he answered, “That’s a funny thing. I learned many years ago, to don’t even bother and look because it just stresses you out. You can actually only really trust the forecast about a day out. You’ve got enough stress as it is. You might as well not put that extra layer on.”

My family and I have been enjoying the festival for the last few years. There really is something to do for the whole family, and admission for everything is free. So be sure to circle the June 23-26, 2016 weekend on your calendar and head down to Mooney’s Bay for a fun filled time.

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