A dazzling flash lights up the night sky, a symphony of color followed by a bone rattling “BOOM!” Like luminous flowers perched for a moment in the heavens, the sparks trace a trail of light as they gracefully descend back to Earth. All-manner of eloquent prose have been used throughout history to describe fireworks, but in the end words inevitably fall short of capturing the beauty, grandeur, and pure spectacle of these dazzling devices. With their earliest iteration dating back to the Chinese and the 7th century, the contemporary lack of vernacular speaks to the scale and beauty of modern fireworks shows; the recent history and future of fireworks in Vancouver, BC of course dominate any discussion of contemporary pyrotechnics. While fireworks on holidays such as New Year’s Eve are ubiquitous across the globe, Vancouver, BC holds an annual festival that is completely devoted to celebrating light. The aptly named “Celebration of Light,” held during the months of July and August, is dedicated to the promotion and pursuit of world-class fireworks displays. The festival isn’t the only time of year that Vancouver embraces their fire-side though, and more than most cities it’s clear that the past, present, and certainly the future of Vancouver are looking bright.
The Origins of Fireworks
Before discussing the history and future of fireworks in a city like Vancouver, the broader history of fireworks globally should first be touched on. It’s no secret today that fireworks go hand-in-hand with celebrations, and despite the bright flashes, loud noises, and sulfuric smell of gunpowder that accompanies these colorful combustibles, their history is one of celebration as well. Although closely related in design and function to many of their nefarious militarized cousins, fireworks have always existed in their own right as a peaceful device for punctuating both cultural and religious festivities. Even the familiar and often dazzling colors that are the hallmark of modern firework shows have been a key component of pyrotechnics from the start.
As mentioned above, the first recorded evidence of fireworks comes from 7th century China, where they were used in variety of festivals. Given China’s near global preeminence both culturally and economically at the time, it is no surprise that pyrotechnics soon found their way across the seas and Silk Road to other cultures as well. As the old adage goes, “that’s all she wrote,” and the tandem development of gunpowder and fireworks in the Western world is fairly well-known. Although the technology of fireworks has come a long way since the 7th century and their humble origins, there still exist the same basic categories of pyrotechnics: ground and aerial. The former type of firework is more common nowadays for amateur use and small celebrations, with the latter being the focal point of firework displays like the “Celebration of Light” in Vancouver.
Celebration of Light
Firework competitions and shows are a popular way for communities, be it a city, state, or even country, to celebrate holidays, anniversaries, and other momentous occasions. The scale and spectacle of the shows have reached such a fever-pitch that fireworks have become an event all their own, and nowhere is that more apparent than Vancouver, BC during the months of July and August. Known as the “Celebration of Light,” a name befitting the focus of the festivities, this international fireworks competition pits teams from across the globe against each other in an event that spans two months and takes place on three separate nights.
The Celebration officially began in 1990, and takes place over the English Bay of Vancouver. In the 2013 the celebration attracted upwards of 1.4 million spectators over the course of the festival, with viewing locations across the bay packed with onlookers. Competing nations must prepare a themed fireworks show for the massive audience, utilizing not only their pyrotechnic skills, but choreography (in a sense), and showmanship as well. In 2013 the home crowd got an extra-special treat, as the Canadian team came out on top with their show themed around “A Wonderful World / Into a Raging River.”
Beyond the Celebration
While the recent history and future of fireworks in Vancouver, BC are certainly dominated by the Celebration of Lights competition held in late summer, it is by no means the end-all-be-all of pyrotechnics in the region. Halloween in Vancouver is about more than just scary costumes and carved pumpkins, as the city is known for its amateur fireworks displays. A simple Google search of the subject matter is all it takes, as information on permits, legal use, and general firework safety seem to go hand-in-hand with the more “traditional” holiday themes.
In 2013 the pyrotechnic enthusiasm got a little out of hand, with at least one individual going from celebrating to the emergency room after a close encounter of the wrong kind with a firework of the aerial variety. According to reports, a wayward bottle rocket (a small aerial firework that is designed to shoot up into the air before exploding) failed to fly vertically and struck a young woman in the eye. In addition to the physical injury suffered by the victim, Metro Vancouver estimated that fireworks were responsible for approximately $32,000 in damage by the time that Halloween was through, many people were in financial stress and had to resort to bad credit loans as described on this blog and here.
Past, Present, and Future
With Halloween and the Celebration of Light anchoring one-another at opposite ends of the firework spectrum, it’s safe to say that Vancouver is not just an average city when it comes to promoting and pioneering with pyrotechnics; both the professional and amateur practitioner have something to love in Metro Vancouver. Whether it’s a world-class fireworks festival that will dazzle and delight, or a raucous night of rabble-rousing punctuated (and hopefully not punctured) by bottle rockets, a trip to Vancouver, BC is sure to be an illuminating experience. In the past it has been sponsored by large corporations such as Honda or HSBC bank, in the future you may see larger corporations taking hold into sponsored events . Learn more about working conditions here.