Celebration of light Fireworks

Night One: China

On the first Saturday, I made a day of it on Granville Island, close enough to see the fireworks, with only the Burrard Bridge between us and English Bay. That Saturday was also opening night for another favourite Vancouver summertime tradition: the teen Shakespeare company's free shows in the park. They're doing Henry V this year, with a '90s grunge bent. The two monarchs wear studded black leather crowns and trench coats lined with red and blue plaid, for England and France, respectively. The company wears heavy black boots, they fight with shiny chrome pipes, and Catherine of France wears a T-shirt which reads PARDON MY FRENCH. I think I've seen that on at Forever 21.

After the show ended, with the sun going down and the wind picking up, I walked across the island, arms crossed tight over my chest to stay warm, looking a place to sit. Not much is open at nearly 10pm; no chance for something hot to drink. I had cherries from the market--my favourite Rainiers, plump and yellow, with a red blush and juice that makes my mouth sticky. The restaurant at the end of the dock was hosting a wedding on the second floor. I watched the party gather on the balcony, the photographer posing the bride in front of the shiny Yaletown backdrop, and I wondered if the couple chose that day for the fireworks.

I wondered if they remembered these summer nights from their childhood, too.

Night Two: Brazil

When I was a kid, the fireworks were called the Symphony of Fire, and it was sponsored by a cigarette company. I don't think I knew Benson & Hedges made cigarettes back then. All I knew was that they made fireworks happen in my city. Though the fireworks didn't start until 10pm, after the sun went down, my family spent the day in the city. On the Saturdays, we packed up the barbecue, bathing suits, burgers, and headed into Stanley Park before the crowds.

We set up beside the pool at Second Beach. We had always been a picnic family. My mom never took us anywhere without also packing a snack. We spent the whole day in the park, mostly swimming, sometimes on the playground nearby. The ocean was right there, too, though we didn't swim in it. It's rocky and the waves can be dangerous, and the pool was just so much better. My parents picked Second Beach as our home base for fireworks nights because it was close enough to see everything, but far enough away from the crowds. Teenagers and young couples fill up English Bay; families hang out at Second Beach.

On Wednesday, because I had the day off, I took the train to Waterfront Station and walked the whole of the Seawall, around the curving inlets, under the Lions Gate Bridge, through the crowds of summer tourists and crazy runners, to English Bay, where the fireworks barge is anchored off shore.

Third Beach was filled with far flung college kids, what looked like a student hostel field trip. Boys wearing the stars and stripes on their chests; girls wearing the Union flag wrapped around their bathing suits like a towel. Second Beach is still for the families. I've been living in White Rock too long already because the multiculturalism of Vancouver really hit me that night. I heard too many languages to count, smelled so much great food, saw the colour of the city on every face.

I pushed my way through the chaos of English Bay, past the food trucks, away from the noise, onto Sunset Beach, beside the Burrard Bridge. I found a spot on the hill, I took off my shoes, I ate cherries and figs until the sky lit up.

Night Three: Canada

I walked through Yaletown on the last Saturday, along their own sea wall of private marinas with locked gates. My first plan had been to find a spot in David Lam Park, but the angle was all wrong. The buildings are too tall, and the bridge is in the way.

So I kept walking, to Sunset Beach again, but a nice sandy spot with a log to lean against. I hadn't been sitting ten minutes before a frisbee hit me in the stomach. The boy said sorry, and his tone said he meant it. I didn't know what I was supposed to say. It's not "no problem"; it really hurt.

They kept playing behind me, not caring about the angles. It sounded like maybe they were a team. One kept shouting instructions and occasional encouragement. I ate chips and read Mavis Gallant's 1968 Paris notebooks. A cover band played in the distance; it sounded like the radio.

The Celebration of Light is nominally a competition. The conversation at the end of the three nights is about who supposedly won. Before Canada's fireworks had come to an end, the girls behind me declared Brazil the winner. The people in front of me in line for the bus agreed. "People didn't stop cheering for Brazil," one woman explained. "But Canada, I didn't know when they were over."

There was none of the intensity of Brazil's fireworks, the complexity of China's. Canada's fireworks were more subdued, a string of vignettes with a pause between the booms. The smoke hung above the Bay with no wind to blow it out over the water. From where I sat, the brilliant red was muted behind grey smoke.

And then we walked home together, under the bridge, in the middle of the streets, like roaming packs of kids, talking about tonight, and last Wednesday, and years ago when we were young.

⇓ 15.08.02 fireworks.pdf