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.
The beach and ocean fills before the sun even sets.
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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5 comments for “Vancouver’s Celebration of Light (and Safety)”
very interesting!!! i loved the way you have compared the safety concerns of Europe and US… let me add mine.. of Asia “If you get hurt, its your own fault! dont blame anyone!” this is esp true during our festival of Diwali, when firecrackers are lit outside every single house… no one is bothered about safety, forget taking any precautions! When I tell my son to be careful,he is more worried about what his friends will think if he stays away!
I respect that attitude so much more! Personal responsibility.
Ours is mostly influenced by the “I’ll sue!” way of thinking that so often occurs south of the border in the US. Someone burns themselves with their coffee, they sue because no one warned them it was going to be hot. Now, all our take-away cups say “CAUTION HOT!”
Sean had something similar to say about fireworks and safety culture in the US too!
Can you buy fireworks and let them off in your gerden in Canada? The UK is pretty safety conscious (more than continental Europe I’d say) but it’s pretty common to make a homemade firework display on bonfire night. My dad always complains that the fireworks aren’t as exciting these days because they have to be safety tested.
Anu, maybe this link will make you smile… UK safety consciousness applied to Diwali! http://www.crawleyobserver.co.uk/news/local/celebrate_diwali_safely_protect_your_family_and_home_from_fire_1_976698
Lucy, that was wonderful!!! I was trying to imagine the reaction of people if given such a list!! and u know what, half the problem would be solved if ppl just used certified and safe crackers! most of the trouble occurs due to firecrackers which are made under un-certified conditions and are unsafe to be used… thousands are injured because something goes off in their hands… all thanks to the cost factor, and the desire to light as many as possible…. and of course, people seem to love the ones with the bigger bang.. thankfully, have managed to steer my son from the more dangerous one s till now 🙂
Fireworks for personal use in Canada are pretty restricted. Legally, one must be over the age of 18 to buy (and use) them. They also cannot be brought across the border, I’m fairly certain.
While they are technically legal all year for adult use, many cities or areas have specific by-laws concerning noise, time of year, discharge hours, locations they can be set off. Some places you’ll need a permit to use them.
We do, though, get much more lax around the holidays. Here in BC, the big firework holiday is Halloween, followed by New Years Eve.