For more than forty years the city of Nanaimo on Vancouver Island has been famous for a wacky tradition of racing bathtubs. Yes, you read that correctly we’re talking about actual motorized bathtubs that are raced in the choppy waters of the Pacific Ocean. In 1967, Frank Ney the mayor at the time started the races as part of Canada’s 100th birthday celebrations. He very proud of his city and wanted to showcase all its features and beauty to the world. During the festivities he would dress in a classic pirate outfit and tour the town touting sayings such as “hells bells and all is well in Davey Jone’s locker.” He had a lot of involvement in the Bathtub Festivities even beyond his time of being mayor, he was a huge supporter of the event until his death in 1992.
The original race went 57km’s (36 miles) across the Georgia Straight from the Nanaimo harbour to Vancouver’s Kitsilano Beach. In recent years he race has been modified to start and finish in Nanaimo and has become part of the Marine Festival held annually in July.
In addition to the races the Marine Festival is a three day event with live music entertainment, an evening of fireworks, beer gardens, a pancake breakfast, children’s activities and a street fair with food vendors, merchants and a parade.
Events take place at the Pioneer Waterfront Plaza, Maffeo Sutton Park the adjacent Swy-a-lana Lagoon Park adjacent to the Nanaimo Harbour for the entire three days. On Sunday there is a fan fair of vendors, beer gardens and activities at Departure Bay Beach where the race ends.
The event has become an International World Championship Bathtub race attracting participants as far away as Australia. The boats have come a long way in design, they evolved into aerodynamic crafts with high tech motors but still have to include a shape in the form of an old style rolled edge bathtub as a key part of the design.
This is such a big event for Nanaimo that the city does not put on a fireworks show for Canada Day, July 1st. This allows all their funds and efforts to go into the pyrotechnic show for the Saturday night of the Marine Festival.
The full schedule of events can be found at http://bathtubbing.com
Other Summer Events In Nanaimo
The Nanaimo Dragon Boat Festival is a huge event drawing in teams from all over the province of British Columbia and from the United States. It takes place each year in early July on the waterfront at Maffeo Sutton Park.
In mid-July the Silly Boat Regatta is also held on the waterfront near Maffeo Sutton Park. Teams build a boat out of recycled material and race with them in the harbour. For many of the crafts it becomes more about staying afloat then winning the race. It’s not uncommon waist or nearly neck deep in water still trying to paddle!
The Vancouver Island Exhibition is held each year in mid-August. It’s a country fair with a showcase of 4-H animal shows and judging, carnival rides, live music and other entertainment.