Swinging a wrench and singing the blues
By IAN HARVEY Ernest Lee’s life is etched on his face and hands.…
By IAN HARVEY
While Victoria Day officially kicks off the Canadian fireworks season, this year it’s just the opening act before the main event July 1.
And this year, it’s big. Big bang big.
Joe Rastin, above right, of Victory Fireworks.
Tom Jacobs, known in the business as ‘Tommy Fireworks,’ anticipates sales will be up 30 to 40 per cent this year at his Etobicoke-based chain, Rocket Fireworks, which operates 15 consumer retail locations across Ontario and produces commercial pyrotechnic shows. “Everyone is booked solid. If you wanted to add a show for Canada you couldn’t find anyone. It’s jammed.”
Fireworks have already figured big as Canada kicked off 2017 with 19 firework shows from St. John’s, Newfoundland to Victoria, B.C. with a massive show on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on New Year’s Eve which started at 8.17 p.m. – aka 20.17.
On July 1 for the birthday proper, they’re planning a firework show to last 20 minutes and 17 seconds with a French and English musical soundtracks, naturally featuring Canadian artists.
The federal government has money to burn, budgeting $250,000 for a show designed to be large, long and loud. According to the specifications on the government bid there will apparently be at least 150 shells ranging between “200 mm to 300 mm, with a minimum of 30 shells to be 300 mm (12 inch), 40 shells must be 250 mm (10 inch) and 60 shells must be 200 mm (8 inch).”
That’s as big as it gets for firework shells and they’re going to be launched from Nepean Point and near the Alexandra Bridge. Show starts at 10 p.m. with enthusiasts expected to camp out for the best free vantage spots while the reserved areas are sold out. Don’t look for any moments of silence since the specs demand no more than three seconds between bang-bangs.
Vancouver is also going big at Canada Place for a 10.30 p.m. show described as “premium fireworks.” Similar parties are planned July 1 for Calgary, Regina, and Winnipeg. Toronto is going whole hog with four days of fireworks at Nathan Phillips Square June 30 to July 1 with additional fireworks July 1 at Mel Lastman Square, Scarborough Civic Centre and Humber Bay Park West.
Montreal, of course, will be lighting up the sky as part of it its own year-long 375th birthday celebrations. There’s also a long standing fireworks competion running through out July on Wednesdays and Saturdays. Canada’s oldest incorporated city, St. John, New Brunswick, Halifax, Nova Scotia, the cradle of Confederation Charlottetown, PEI and St. John’s Newfoundland, which promises “a celebration in a class of its own” are among dozens of cities and towns planning to light it up.
The Canadian fireworks season starts New Year’s Eve and then ramps up for Chinese New Year and Moon festival, Victoria Day, St. Jean Baptiste Day, Halloween, Guy Fawkes night and Diwali, the Hindu, Sikh and Jain five-day festival of lights. Then there’s a smattering of other community events and celebrations where fireworks are the stars of the evening not to mention weddings and other cultural festivals.
This year however, Canada Day is the big bang event and companies have been planning since last July 1 for this big event.
“Companies have already planning events around shows and some have been shooting commercials already for Canada Day,” says Jacobs, who says he been busy dealing with the impact of the increased sales. “We’re definitely hiring more staff to cope with many more professional displays and the busier retail locations.”
Mark Phillips, owner of Mystical Distributing, one of the largest importer-distributor of fireworks in Canada, is also seeing sales soar: “If someone was spending $7,000 on a show, they’re spending $12,000 this year, $30,000, now $50,000. Every show is bigger this year.”
With demand shooting skyward, the issue now is supply, says Phillips, whose company employs 55 to 100 people depending on the season at two locations in Abbotsford B.C., and Trenton, Ont.
“We pre-ordered a lot of products,” says Mr. Phillips. “There have been factory closures in China by the government so there have been some issues with supply.”
He says Mystical is also jumping on the Canada 150 bandwagon with a series of fireworks under the True North brand with familiar monikers like Crazy Canuck, All Dressed and Double-Double.
Joe Rastin of Victory Fireworks in Markham, Ont., also credits federal Canada 150 funds with boosting his fireworks business, but he says there may be a downside.
The abundance of public shows may quench the desire for families to purchase products for use at their own backyard events. “I don’t expect retail to be as strong,” he says.
Fireworks are federally regulated though their use is municipally controlled, says Canadian National Fireworks Association (CNFA) spokesperson Melanie Sutherland. There are no manufacturers in Canada and all fireworks are imported from China but there are strict regulations on what can be imported and how they must be stored, transported and sold.
While most Canadians are familiar with the pop-up kiosk style of firework retailer at the local level, there’s always a fairly large professional level market for certified pyro-technicians.
All Canadian firework importers and distributors are privately held and there are no published figures on the dollar value of the market. Last year 3.9 million kilograms of fireworks were imported to Canada.
Sutherland says there are some problems with illegal fireworks – bottle rockets and firecrackers are banned in Canada – slipping into the country but the biggest issue the CBFA faces is convincing municipalities across Canada to lift outright bans on any kind of firework displays.
A shorter version of this story was published in the Globe and Mail Monday May 22, 2017