Celebration of Light: What Happens Behind the Barges

The light and music show, after two years of COVID-19-induced dormancy, returns for its 30th anniversary.


Pipes stick out like the barrels of guns on navy ships in the sand strewn across two joined barges in English Bay, a smaller supply barge moored behind them.

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The pipes, buried to specific depths for the 30th Honda Celebration of Light, range in diameter from 50 to 150 millimeters, and the three countries (Japan, Canada and Spain this year) competing have the same option to choose from.

“The differences in the shows are completely down to the teams,” said pyrotechnics expert Kelly Guille, president of Winnipeg-based Archangel Fireworks. “They’re offered a budget ($70,000) and they can use it however they see fit within the criteria.”

Aluminum foil covers the pipes into which the mortars have been loaded so that sparks from previously fired fireworks do not reach the explosives. The tarps cover the pipes if it rains between shows.

“And if we expect rain on the night of the show, we cover everything with poly and just shoot through it,” Guille said.

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“And please don’t look down the pipes, it’s a living product,” he added as he led a group of visitors through the conjoined barges.

There are two explosives inside each firework: the little tails of sparks you see as the fireworks go up is a fuse ignited by an initial explosion; a second explosion triggers the light show from above. Dozens can be thrown within a small fraction of a second of each other.

“This is a loaded 75-millimeter projectile,” Guille said as he pulled the fireworks out of a pipe.

It looked like a small balloon filled with sand, with a small cone containing the initial charge at the bottom, and a cable connected to a firing module, in turn connected by two cables to the other end of the barges along with all the others. . modules to the computer firing system.

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Pyrotechnicians putting together the fireworks of Japan for this Saturday's show.
Pyrotechnicians putting together the fireworks of Japan for this Saturday’s show. Photo by Francis Georgian /PNG

And that’s why the Japanese team sent only their fireworks this year.

Due to Japanese COVID-19 protocols, the team would have had to quarantine upon returning to Japan, so the team itself will not be on the barge for the July 23 show, it will be Guille turning a key for the Akariya Fireworks computer. -program controlled.

Canada’s entry is Midnight Sun Fireworks, a Yukon husband-and-wife team performing on Wednesday nights, a duo who bring passion and fun to their displays, Guille said.

Spain, represented by a company founded in 1860, Pirotecnia Zaragozana, closes the 2022 event on Saturday, July 30.

There is office space, a secure shed, protected by bomb-proof glass, for viewing the show, restrooms, generators, fire extinguishers, and a large fire hose with a pump to draw water from English Bay.

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Had the Japanese been able to be physically in Vancouver, they would have had a supervisory role, as trained personnel do the actual work of setting up the explosives.

“The most dangerous part, the most intense part, is putting the match on the fuse, that’s the only really dangerous thing,” Guille said. “It’s all within federal government regulations, and Canada has an excellent safety record because of the proper licenses and the amount of training that we have before we go out here on the barges.”

The music and light show began in 1990 as the Symphony of Fire and bills itself as the world’s longest-running offshore fireworks competition, drawing perhaps 1.2 million people to English Bay over its three nights.

“The most important thing is to know your product,” said Guille. “Knowing what sparkles do, knowing how to use them to evoke emotions and combine with music.

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“But just playing music and setting off fireworks, even if they were time-synchronized, doesn’t necessarily mean you’re presenting an effective scene. It’s about knowing your product and then having the knowledge to match that product to what the piece of music is exciting.”

Pyrotechnicians putting together the fireworks of Japan for this Saturday's show.
Pyrotechnicians putting together the fireworks of Japan for this Saturday’s show. Photo by Francis Georgian /PNG


There will be additional police, fire, ambulance, parks and 911 personnel on duty, as well as more SkyTrain, SeaBus and West Coast Express runs.

Organizers emphasize that Celebration of Light is a family event and remind the public that the parks and beaches from where the show can be viewed are alcohol, vape and cigarette free zones.

If you are bringing children, we recommend that you set up a safe place and that the children have your phone number in case they get separated.

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“It’s the biggest event since the pandemic started,” said Sgt. Steve Addison of Vancouver Police said. “Stay safe while having fun.”

The city’s marine, RCMP, and navy units will be out on the water, where various boats (and sometimes the odd swimmer) will compete for limited space, then return to shore in the dark.

Roads, especially in the West End, will be closed, forcing some buses to reroute, while paramedics will be on UTVs and bikes. Real-time updates can be found on the VPD’s social media channels.

Historically, nine-one-one calls have increased during fireworks, especially Saturday shows, said E-Comm 911’s Jasmine Bradley. In many cases, these are accidental dials, children playing with their parents or people who report shootings.

The park board asks you not to bring glass containers and not to dig holes in the sand. Staff arrive at the venue in the morning and aim to clean up the beaches and parks by 9am after each show.

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