In 2001 The Sydenham Challenge Dragon Boat Festival (SCDBF) was born with the first event scheduled in the fall of that year stated Brian Armitage, founder of the SCDBF. Due to the tragic events that unfolded on September 11, 2001 and out of respect the SCDBF was cancelled. This gave us the opportunity to rethink the festival with a new spring date in June.

In the year 2000, a member of our community and avid dragon boat racer Don Verhaeghe, introduced the sport of one of Canada's fastest growing water sports, Dragon Boat Racing locally. Don then approached members of the Wallaceburg Breast Cancer Support Group. Interest was immediate. Their first challenge was to find 22+ interested breast cancer survivors. To do this they reached out to other Breast Cancer Support Groups in Chatham and Sarnia where the Breast Buddies Dragon Boat Team was formed.

Dragon boating and the benefits for breast cancer patients are well known across the country. The upper body workout a person achieves through the exercise of dragon boating is extremely beneficial for cancer patients, especially those dealing with breast cancer. This is the reason breast cancer teams are so well supported at Dragon Boat events throughout the world.

The Breast Buddies mission is to promote awareness of a quality of life after a diagnosis of breast cancer.

Don also introduced the sport of dragon boating to several community organizations. Unfortunately at that time the concept didn’t catch on. At the same time Brian’s wife Karen, a breast cancer survivor and one of the founders of the Breast Buddies Dragon Boat team in conversation with Brian the Sydenham Challenge Dragon Boat Festival was born.

Organizing community events was something Brian had a good deal of experience in however…dragon boats? Fortunately we had Don who provided his experience, knowledge and guidance also introduced us to the Raging Dragons Dragon Boat Club whom Don was a member.

With no budget we basically had to beg, borrow and steel (so to speak). Thankfully several community organizations loaned the Sydenham Challenge many of the items required. From what we called the tin tubs (practice boats) to life jackets and paddles. The sound system etc. etc. 2002, 8 teams signed up. By 2004 14 teams with a strong indication of continual growth. It was time to take the next step by attracting sponsorships. Eternity’s Touch, mPower, Subway and Southwest Regional Credit Union came on board. (And continue to be with us to this day). This allowed us to grow by bring in official dragon boats, light weight, 42 feet long with a crew of 22 people. Are sponsors have also allowed us to keep the registration fee’s down and to this day we can boast that the Sydenham Challenge has the lowest registration fee’s of any Dragon Boat Festival that we know of.

The Wallaceburg Dragon Boat Festival also known as the Sydenham Challenge provides a fun-filled day of recreation and friendly competition for both community teams and established, experienced teams. Funds raised through registrations are directed towards numerous local charities. Participating teams come from many diverse areas of the community, including professional teams, employee groups sponsored by their companies (team-building), community groups (churches, families, organizations/clubs, etc.), and Breast Cancer Survivor teams.

On behalf of the SCDBF committee, our very generous sponsors and all those involved we look forward to seeing everyone on the historic Sydenham River.