Behind the Scenes at the Celebration of Light

This year ‘s savior, Keg owner David Aisenstat (l), with Brent MacGregor, chair of the Vancouver Fireworks Festival

The father-daughter Celebration of Light production team of Maude and Frank Furtado.

Pyrotechnician Patrick Brault aboard the fireworks barge (some crew stay aboard for the duration of the festival)

The set-up on the morning of July 22, 2009.

The going rate for a Spanish-made sparkler like this? Six hundred bucks a pop.

Purveyor of some of the world’s finest explosives: Rod Cameron.

Fireworks event manager Zirka Reshitnyk (l), with sister Myllana.

From left: Vancovuer city councillors Raymond Louie, Tim Stevenson, Kerry Jang and Geoff Meggs.

Official escorts: Staff Sargent Robert Underhill and Colonel Bob Vallance of the R.C.M.P

Shore FM President and GM Roy Hennessy, with Shawn Thomas, Director of the Fireworks, DJ Steve Dunbar, and Raymond Louie

The night South Africa performed, the crowd enjoyed a tempestuous sunset complete with thunder and lightning.

Head judge Jill Krop from Global News accepts a token of thanks from Shawn Thomas a painting by artist Tiko Kerr.

Event: HSBC Celebration of Light
Setting: English Bay (July 22 to August 1, 2009)
Critique: Explosive fun!

Since 1990 the sky over English Bay has served as the backdrop for one of North America’s premier pyrotechnical exhibitions. When legislation forced sponsor Benson & Hedges to pull its support in 2000, the event was on the financial rocks. Until David Aisenstat and a few others stepped in, that is. (BCB discusses the economics of the fireworks here.)

Each of the four fireworks nights – two Wednesday nights, two Saturday nights – rings in at well over a million dollars. The event, though, has faced repeated cancellations only to be saved, last minute, by angel sponsors like London Drugs and Concord Pacific in 2007 and HSBC in 2000. This year’s Celebration marks the end of HSBC’s original commitment but hopes are high it will continue to lend its support in the future.

* * *

It’s a sure sign that summertime has arrived when that big black barge gets hauled into English Bay. It’s there to send thousands – who knows, maybe millions – of pieces of fire into the air. Hundreds of thousands of people turn out for the Celebration of Light which, for almost 20 years, has attracted leading pyrotechnic teams from around the world. I was fortunate to sit aboard the floating stage for a tour with two of the show’s maestros: designer Patrick Brault and executive producer Frank Furtado (who is retiring to pass the torch onto daughter Maude).

I don’t imagine that fireworks are easily defended from a sustainability point of view, but there’s no denying the popularity of the event, which draws an estimated 400,000 spectators each night. It gives the local business community a jolt of stimulation, too. This year the addition of the Shore 104 FM sound stage brought an extra aural excitement to the experience and, surprisingly, a minimal number of noise complaints.
I don’t want to get ahead of myself, but the rumors of Vancouver shedding its No Fun City moniker just might be true.