Story and Photos by Julia Pelish
Vacay.ca Visuals Editor
VANCOUVER, BRITISH COLUMBIA — In Canada, the biggest fireworks celebration isn’t for Canada Day in Ottawa or New Year’s Eve in Toronto or Niagara Falls. It’s here, each summer, over the course of three evenings, with an international competition that is known to draw more than half a million spectators per night to the shores of English Bay.
Other cities have fireworks displays similar to the Honda Celebration of Light, but nowhere else in Canada is there a turnout like what Vancouver‘s competition enjoys. People crowd along bridges, stampede onto the grounds of Stanley Park, sprawl out on beaches on both sides of English Bay, and drive their boats into position hours before the show.
A total of approximately 1.4 million people are expected to attend the three-night pyrotechnic showcase that began on Saturday night and is considered the largest offshore fireworks display in the world. It continues on Wednesday and then wraps up on Saturday, August 2. This year, the United States, France and Japan will participate in setting off fireworks set to music. Three judges (often media members) evaluate the shows based on ingenuity, orchestration and simple “wow” factor and then vote to decide the champion.
Vancouverites and visitors to the metropolis, though, are the ones who win out. In a city that is often chided for its lack of unique cultural activities, the organizers of the Celebration of Light have astutely extended the event into a festival that includes outstanding live music, aquatic entertainment and good eats thanks to the participation of some of Vancouver’s top food trucks.
Saturday’s kickoff featured a one-hour set from Vancouver-based 54-40, who sounded as polished as ever as they ran through hits that included “Baby Ran” and “I Go Blind.”
Perhaps the most entertaining part of the daylight events, however, was the wondrous and exceptionally cool water show by B.C. Flyboard, a group of daredevils who use a new form of water propulsion to soar several feet in the air. They glide like snowboarders, dive like dolphins and perform acrobatic tricks that make you first wonder how it’s possible and then decide you want to try it yourself. The daredevils were dressed in super-hero costumes as they leapt through the water and flew in the sky during the spectacle.
On opening night, the United States set their fireworks to musical hits that included the Doors’ “Touch Me” and the Beatles’ “Love Me Do.” It was a crowd-pleasing show as the music was heard through loud speakers in different areas of English Bay and was also broadcast on radio.
The Vancouver fireworks show began in 1990, when it was known as the Symphony of Fire, and has increased in popularity to the point where residents plan house parties and scout out viewing locations days in advance. Organizers now sell bleacher-seat tickets and VIP tent spots for those who don’t want to elbow their way through the crowds to look. The bleachers offer excellent views of the fireworks and are well managed, so there isn’t the rowdiness you’ll often find among the beach crowd.
MORE ABOUT THE 2014 HONDA CELEBRATION OF LIGHT
Remaining Dates: July 30 (France) and August 2 (Japan)
Location: English Bay Beach, Vancouver, BC
Time: The fireworks will ignite at 10 pm and there are warning shots 15 minutes and 5 minutes before the main showcase. Each show lasts about 20 minutes.
VIP Keg Lounge Tickets: $149 per person, includes two drinks, hors d’oeuvres and other food choices
Bleacher Seat Tickets: $49 per person (includes designated seat within prime view of the fireworks and sound system for clear audio of the music that accompanies the pyrotechnics as well as the bands that precede the show).
Attending On the Beach or in Stanley Park: You’ll have to bring your own seats (or beach towels) and remember no alcohol or pot is allowed in public. The police are out in force during the fireworks nights. Beachgoers had scouted out spots hours before the festivities on July 26, but you can walk down closer to the time of the fireworks and still find a decent view.
Upcoming Headline Performers: The Sheepdogs (July 30), The Odds (August 2). Both perform at the English Bay Beach Stage at 8:30 pm. Hey Ocean (July 30) and The Matinee (August 2) perform at 7:15 pm as opening acts.
Sunset Beach Stage Performers: Locarno (7:30 pm) and Spirit of the West (8:30 pm) take the stage east of the fireworks barge on July 30. Jon and Ray (7:30 pm) and Jim Byrens and the Sojourners (8:30 pm) headline the Sunset Beach stage on August 2.
Twitter: @CelebOfLight. Hashtags: #vanshinesbright, #celebrationoflight, #shorefest