By SPEC President, Dr. Carole Christopher
Fireworks. I found myself consciously not watching the fireworks this year. A couple of decades ago in the early years of this annual event, I went with friends to Vanier Park to see the fireworks. I was hoping to reconnect with an awesome experience in 1976 in Riverside Park, New York City, where a huge crowd watched the fireworks celebrating the US bicentennial above the Hudson River. Those fireworks were decidedly less pyrotechnic than now but it was a profound gathering of the community with great love of country fueling a remarkable civic experience. It left an indelible impression on me.
The event at Vanier Park started off well enough but within 10 minutes I could no longer see the full effects of the fireworks looking up through a great stagnant haze of smoke. It totally shifted the experience for me. The most memorable and pleasurable part of the evening was the stimulating night biking back to our W. Point Gray home. I’ve had very little appetite to rejoin the crowds in subsequent years. Since then, I’ve occasionally enjoyed the fireworks from the distance of our front balcony where we had a clear view between the trees, but the inevitable and lingering cloud of haze over the city has produced a mild aversive reaction in me. That’s a slightly precarious thing to say about an event that attracts over a quarter of a million people at every showing. Yet this year, I feel compelled to say a couple of things about this annual event.
The fireworks this year took place when the whole Metro Vancouver region is in stage III drought conditions, under an air advisory alert, and under serious threat of fires. Over the years, as the summer draught and fires have worsened, I’ve wondered if we can do this much loved celebration in a way that takes account of and adds to public awareness around the seriousness of these threats?
I heard an interview recently with the owner of the Christine Lake Lodge, currently threatened by fires. She spoke simply and matter-of-factly of the necessity to revamp their schedule so that August is not a time in which the lodge depends on tourism for its operation. I admired her capacity to take stock of realities and revise accordingly.
With this on my mind we went to Victoria for the August long weekend, breaking a longstanding tradition of staying home over holiday weekends. On Sunday evening we went to the inner harbour to hear the Victoria symphony and view the fireworks. I hadn’t mentioned to my partner my misgivings about fireworks and was going along with his plans for an enjoyable evening. And, indeed, it was! I stood in a large crowd where we luckily found a place to tuck in with a perfect view and good listening range. A family of three, also from Vancouver, tucked in beside us. The fireworks came just as a gorgeous sunset gave way to dark and the orchestra stopped, giving way to a collective silence broken by appreciative gasps of visual pleasure. It lasted about ten minutes and we turned to our neighbours, all gushing agreement, “that was just the right amount of fireworks!!” The haze was just starting to form but not the murky cloud of smoke. Rick and I mused as we walked home on the felt sense of a coming together into the commons.
I’m not expecting an avalanche of support and indeed I may get an avalanche of disagreement that we need to do any Rethinking of our Vancouver annual fireworks event. If it’s going to continue, which is almost a certainty, is there a way to do it that is less likely to collide with the draught-air pollution-fire triad that is now a predictable feature of Vancouver summers? I think it’s worth examining.