Every summer in Vancouver, we have the Celebration of Light. This is an international firework competition spread over four nights throughout two weeks. Three countries take a night to put on the firework display paired with music to create a visual soundtrack. Most years end with a grand finale night where all countries work together. That is so very Canadian.
The fireworks are held down in English Bay- a beach within the downtown peninsula. As far as a local fireworks display goes, these are phenomenal. China always leaves the crowd “Oohing” and “Ahhing” and once Spain came with newly invented firework colours.
Regardless, I do not go for the fireworks themselves, I go for the experience. You see, Vancouver is not very large by international standards. One million people live in the city itself. Two million including the surrounding cities. Yet, they say, combining all three of the nights scheduled this year, 1.4 million people will be expected to attend. That is a lot of people- for us.
The night, for many, begins hours earlier. Families and groups will head down to the beach during the afternoon to beat the rush and claim a good spot. Picnics are had, kids go swimming in the ocean. Then, once the sun sets, people start pouring in to the downtown core. Two major roads that meet each other at the beach become blocked to cars as masses of pedestrians walk down the road. The beach soon becomes a mass of people on blankets. They stretch down the inlet. Vendors sell hotdogs and pop and glowsticks and various light-up toys. The bay itself fills with boats. Yet, people continue to flood in to this small corner of the city.
What never struck me as odd before were the safety measures. Canada- North America, in fact– is very concerned with protecting its citizens. Police survey crowds from the rooftops of smaller buildings, mounted police ride their horses through the outskirts, bags are checked for alcohol-especially among the youth who are not legally allowed to drink. The fireworks themselves are fired from a barge out on the water. It is an instant fire barrier, and no one can possibly get close. Then, at the end of the night, the city has roped off areas at the sky train stations to create neat, orderly queues. We are safe and we are prepared.
I compare this briefly to watching a similar fireworks display in Barcelona, Spain. The fireworks, while on an outcropping, were on the beach themselves, along with the spectators. This meant that they were close enough that when combined with the breeze coming off the ocean, the sparks and embers of the fireworks actually floated over our heads in the crowd. It added a whole new dimension and view. It also added a sense of worry after years of Vancouver keeping everything at arms length-and then some.
Overall, watching our Celebration of Light this year definitely highlighted the country’s protective nature. While Europe often seems to have a message of “be smart, protect yourself”, we expect less: “don’t even think about it, we’ll keep you safe”.
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