City Informer: Why Do Vancouverites Set off Fireworks at Halloween?

Halloween fireworks aren't a thing in other places. Why here?

I don’t need to tell you that the Halloween season is upon us: the signs are everywhere. You’ve brushed the real cobwebs off your box of decorative cobwebs, “Monster Mash” is on repeat at your spin class and restaurants are serving up festive seasonal feature dishes of spaghetti and peeled grapes. But for me, it never feels quite like Halloween until I’ve filed into an elementary school library to watch a nightmare-inducing firecracker safety video.

I grew up associating Halloween with fireworks and firecrackers. Every year, I’d put on my Belle from Beauty and the Beast dress overtop of my raincoat (like a lady) and head out into the night with my pillowcase. I knew speed was of the essence—not just to maximize candy-hours and beat my neighbour Melissa, who was also dressed as Belle, of course, but also to avoid the teens who were lurking outside with their Roman candles and Lady Fingers, waiting for nightfall. The shrieks and pops of juvenile explosives rang through the neighbourhood until the wee hours, becoming as much of a soundtrack to the holiday as Rockwell’s D-list Halloween hymn, “Somebody’s Watching Me.”

Pumpkin lifting off like a firework
Byron Eggenschwiler

So I was shocked to discover a few years ago that this phenomenon is purely regional: firecrackers and Halloween are a “thing” in B.C., and B.C. only. Not in Calgary, not in Toronto, not even in the town in Nightmare Before Christmas (a.k.a “the big three”). It’s like when I went to the doctor and it dawned on me for the first time that it’s pronounced “pap smear” not “pap schmear”—suddenly the world shifts and you find yourself looking in from the outside, wondering, “why am I this way?”

There certainly isn’t an answer for my gynecological misunderstanding, but for the fireworks there’s a plausible explanation. Halloween butts up against England’s Guy Fawkes Day, a holiday marking the anniversary of a (failed) plot to blow up English Parliament that they celebrate with fireworks and bonfires galore. With Western Canada being chock-a-block with English immigrants in this country’s early days, it’s understandable that these pyrotechnic traditions came along, too; plus, living alongside them was a Chinese population who also had a taste for firecrackers for their own celebrations. No wonder, then, that the mischief-making ethos of All Hallows’ Eve made for a perfect storm of, as historians say, “lotsa ’splosions.”

We may have seen the last of our special little West Coast Halloween tradition, though: the City of Vancouver banned fireworks and firecrackers as of November 2020. Sources say, however, that it’s still easy  to stock up on explosives, if you know where to look (e.g., in any building labelled “fireworks for sale”), but if they actually start to crack down, my childhood associations will soon be nothing but a memory—unless I get Netflix to pick up a gritty reboot I’m writing of those firecracker safety videos.