Vancouver’s century-plus relationship with fireworks has finally been doused. In case you missed it, on Nov. 5, your city council made history by voting in favour of banning consumer fireworks. Exempt are sanctioned traditional celebrations such as Chinese New Year, Diwali and, surely for economic reasons, whatever the English Bay fireworks competition is called these days.
According to council, we the public were overwhelming in favour of the ban. It means Vancouver will soon join other nearby, civilized and empathetic cities such as Victoria, Surrey and Seattle, which have permanently stubbed out consumer fireworks. Green Party councillor Pete Fry was the man behind the motion.
“I had a dog many years ago that was a basket case around fireworks,” Fry told me. “So when a dog named Maggie was killed at Trout Lake three years ago as a direct result of fireworks in an off leash park, I was able to empathize with their particular situation.”
I, too, was snapped out of the allure of all things fiery and explosive during Expo 86, when I was 13 years old. From May to October, every night for six months, the world’s fair had a nightly fireworks show. Our beloved family dog Aggie, a magnificent and smart shepherd-collie cross, freaked out over the nightly barrage. She died of a fear-induced heart attack in June 1986, leaving our family heartbroken. I’ve been a staunch opponent of fireworks ever since.
But, as Fry explained, it’s not just about pets.
“The more I looked into it, and the literal terror that overindulgence around fireworks brings for so many in our city — dog owners, people with PTSD, wildlife, Alzheimer’s patients, refugees from wars, people with autism — it became impossible to ignore.”
The motion passed 6-3.
Chris Baisley is an engineer, who, three years ago, started a petition to ban fireworks. He has since collected more than 3,400 signatures, including my own. He’s obviously pleased with council’s decision. Baisley has always wondered why some should have to suffer for others’ enjoyment.
“Fireworks and firecrackers are massive public disruptors,” he told me. “Civil respect and responsibility are much more important than a small private thrill.”
Many Vancouver dads and their teenage sons appear to be outraged at the ban. How can “No Fun City” take away their God-given right to blow s*** up, just like their dads taught them? And that’s what it boils down to: There’s a certain slice of our adolescent population that simply loves to be entertained by loud explosions and fire in the sky, to hell with anyone or anything that might negatively be impacted.
Jennifer Van Evra, who I have worked with at the CBC, lives near Trout Lake. It’s the eye of the volcano when it comes to firecrackers, and she has a short fuse on the subject.
"I hear all of these middle-age dads defending the fireworks and saying they want their kids to have the same experience they did,” Van Evra said. “But what kind of lesson are you teaching your kids when you know those fireworks traumatize animals, harm wildlife, hurt vulnerable people, generate a ton of wasteand cause people's homes to burn down? How can that be 'fun'?"
When my wife first moved to Vancouver, she was confused when she heard the sharp cracks and explosions that filled the night in the weeks leading up to Halloween.
“What the hell is going on out there?” she asked. No such tradition existed in any other place she had lived in Canada.
It turns out, Vancouver’s history with fireworks is relatively unique and dates back at least 120 years. Our fall weather firestorm has developed over the decades as a result of West Coast multiculturalism. According to Vancouver historian Christine Hagemoen, early immigrants from Great Britain brought with them traditions of jack o’lanterns, bonfires, costumes and Guy Fawkes Day. Chinese immigrants brought with them the lunar celebrations, and their invention from around 200 BC, firecrackers. The Brits wondered why the Chinese should have all the loud fun in January. Slowly, the handheld pyrotechnics made their way to Halloween, and the result is more than a century of relative mayhem in our dark streets every October.
Growing up in Vancouver, almost everyone knew a kid rumoured to have been blasted in the face by the blazing balls of a Roman candle. Many boasted to have blown up a mailbox with a pounded down Screecheroo. But just because we did it then, should we be allowed to do it now? Using that logic, should my uncle still be allowed to smoke his way through a pack of Camels on his flight to Hawaii?
My neighbours on Trinity Street, otherwise know as Vancouver’s Halloween hot spot, won’t be happy with this column. Walter Lemmo, who lives across the street, is a great guy. He does a fireworks display every Halloween.
“I told my daughter Viviana, whose birthday is Oct. 29, that I will always blow off fireworks in celebration of her, and now I won’t be able to,” Walter lamented. “I understand there are idiots out there, but there are also good, responsible people using them. I’m upset. It’s going to be hard to swallow the ban. It’s disappointing.”
Walter will have one more year to celebrate before the ban takes effect in 2021. I have a feeling he’s going to go out with a very, very big bang.