Pancake breakfasts. Free concerts. Maple leaf temporary tattoos. Classic car show-and-shines. There are countless Canada Day traditions, but none are quite so spectacular as firework shows. Every night on July 1, millions of people across the country will be staring up, oohing and aahing as they watching firework artists paint pictures in the sky.
Brad Dezotell is the owner and lead designer of Fireworks Spectaculars Canada (FSC), the Calgary-based company that produces Edmonton’s Canada Day fireworks show every year. He describes his work as a unique artistic medium—one that can’t be replicated or adapted into any other form.
“What makes fireworks so magical is the fact [that] you really need to come down and see the show and it really doesn’t translate well into words,” he says. “You can’t describe fireworks and make it exciting at all. And you can’t even watch a video of fireworks and make it exciting … You need the atmosphere of the show. You need the sounds of the show. You need the brilliance of the show and the impact of the show. And the only way to get that is to enjoy the fireworks live.”
The luminous extravaganza in Edmonton’s river valley will only last around 15 minutes, but it requires a lot of time to plan and prepare for the fireworks industry’s busiest night of the year.
“The firework design was done actually months ago,” Dezotell explains. “That show is already built here [in Calgary]. We’re just waiting for June 30th to begin to install it [in Edmonton] … Each individual show may only take three to five days to make, but we do 35 shows on Canada Day weekend. So we need to start building shows months in advance to be able to meet that.”
During the show, Dezotell and his technicians will monitor the firing equipment in Kinsmen Park. But other than maintaining the safety of the site, they aren’t hugely involved with launching the fireworks themselves—it’s a far cry from running around a field with a book of matches like those launching the small fireworks available in small town gas stations.
“It’s all computer controlled and really anybody could shoot that show at this point in time, [who]’s trained to use our firing panel,” Dezotell says. “You literally can hit three buttons and sit back and watch the show. The rest of it is all safety. The firing system has a lot of safety parameters in it that many firing systems do not … We can actually pull whole portions of the fireworks show out on the fly if it’s creating a problem due to wind or the type of articles or otherwise. And the fireworks show will continue on like nothing happened.”
Edmonton’s Canada Day performance is a traditional fireworks show, where designers create scenes and tableaux in the night sky. But FSC also creates pyromusicals, where fireworks are choreographed to music. The company has won the prestigious Gold Jupiter, the highest honour at the world’s largest international firework competition in Montréal, L’International des Feux Loto-Québec, which has been running since 1985.
“We are one of only two Canadian teams ever to win it in all those years,” Dezotell says. “And so clearly that’s the pinnacle of fireworks in the world and we’ve won that competition twice. If you ask any firework producer around the world—doesn’t matter what country they’re from—which competition would you like to be invited to and win? They will universally say Montréal.”
FSC won in 2010 for their pyromusical Heroes (which used music from film soundtracks to celebrate firefighters, police officers and the military) and again in 2014 for Kutuan: Legends of Fire (which honoured the mythology of Quebec’s Innu First Nations). If you’d like to see one of the internationally renowned company’s pyromusicals, you don’t need to go to Quebec—you just need to wait six months, since FSC also organizes Edmonton’s New Year’s Eve fireworks in Churchill Square.
No matter what other traditions you observe to celebrate 2016’s halfway point, wherever you are in the city at 11 pm on July 1, you’ll probably see the light of the fireworks dancing on the surface of the river, hear the thunder echoing off Edmonton’s downtown skyscrapers, and/or even feel the boom reverberating through your bones. According to Dezotell, the best part about fireworks is that you don’t even have to be able to see them to enjoy them.
“There’s a fan of fireworks that comes to the Montréal competition. He has for many years. And I think it’s safe to say he’s visually impaired and he still comes there to enjoy the show,” Dezotell says. “It doesn’t matter what age group you are, whether you’re male or female, whether you’re married or single, or even what country you’re from. Fireworks have a universal appeal … Everyone likes the action of fireworks, the brightness of the fireworks, the noise of the fireworks, and of course the unique nature of the form of entertainment. It really is unique. There’s nothing else like it.”