Picture this. It’s July 1, the peak of summertime. You’re lounging outside with your friends, enjoying the hot weather with burgers and hot dogs on the barbecue. Nighttime rolls around and it’s time for Canada Day fireworks. Suddenly bright, beautiful displays of fireworks jet into the night sky, leaving all those viewing them in a state of euphoria. Whether it be watching fireworks twinkle from a distance or going out to the lake and shooting Roman candles, fireworks of all shapes and sizes have the wondrous ability to bring people together.
Extensive setup and preparation are essential when dealing with fireworks in a professional capacity. Ken Goosen, producer of Calgary’s GlobalFest, says that their fireworks setups can take weeks or even months to complete.
“What we do is not typical for a lot of other [fireworks] shows, because all of our shows are pyro-musicals,” says Ken Goosen
Pyro-musicals are fireworks shows perfectly choreographed to music, combining the visual grandeur of exploding colours with famous songs. When they shoot up into the sky, fireworks are one of the most enjoyable spectacles you can witness.
Ultimately, safety is paramount when dealing with pyrotechnics. Professional fireworks companies are governed by Natural Resources Canada under the Explosives Regulatory Division, which requires anyone working with professional fireworks to carry a license. All Canadian pyrotechnicians must also undergo a safety and legal awareness course.
For some in the business, the brightest part of the job is sharing their passion for fireworks with those who watch them.
“You can lose a hockey game, but how can you lose in a fireworks show? Everyone wins with a fireworks show,” laughs Rob Kowalyshyn, owner of Thunder F/X Fireworks in St. Albert. “I like listening to people after the show and I love people walking away smiling.”
Goosen echoes a similar sentiment when it comes to creating great fireworks shows. “We can blow stuff up, we have a lot of fun doing that, but unless somebody is there to see it and to enjoy it, it’s a really self-serving thing.”
Even though the majority of people aren’t familiar with the lingo, everybody surely has a favourite type of firework that stands out above the rest. Kowalyshyn says some of the most popular fireworks they use for shows are the brocade crown shell and the Spanish titanium weeping willow, which explodes into a shower of raining light. “They’re hot, they’re pricey, but they’re gorgeous.”
Kowalyshyn and his crew at Thunder F/X complete a wide array of different events such as weddings, birthday parties, anniversaries, and large-scale municipal showings all over the province. Like GlobalFest, they also produce pyro-musicals as well as water shows.
According to Goosen, other fireworks popular with crowds include smiley faces, hearts, flying saucers, and a certain type of shell that shoots from under the water and explodes at the surface. Typical projectiles have lift-charges that shoot straight up into the air, whereas more complex fireworks, such as the flying saucer, use what Goosen describes as a “bicycle wheel with four spokes.” The fireworks are mounted on the outside of the wheel, and as the intensity of the spin increases, it causes the fireworks to lift up in the air. What’s also special about this type of firework is that it’s all done electronically by a computer. “The science and engineering behind it is very unique,” explains Goosen. Fireworks have come a long way since their origins in China roughly 2,000 years ago. And no doubt fans of these exploding light displays were as multigenerational back then as they are today. “There are so many different things that people love about fireworks,” says Goosen. “The wonderful thing is that if you’re three years old or 100 years old, everybody has that same enjoyment of fireworks.”