The B.C. government issued a news release Monday with the upbeat headline: “Exciting events happening around B.C. this summer and fall.” It began: “Fireworks, mountain biking competitions, art shows and outdoor music festivals are just a few of the events people can look forward to this summer and fall with support from B.C.’s Tourism Events Program.”
You will notice that the first “exciting” thing to be mentioned was fireworks. That’s probably because of all summer attractions, fireworks produce the most excitement for the largest number of people – in short, they are immensely popular.
Which makes what’s going on in Gibsons right now difficult to explain to outsiders.
Gibsons is a tourist town with a spectacular harbour setting. Once a year, at the height of summer, Gibsons celebrates with Sea Cavalcade. The climax of the festival is a fireworks display of astonishing beauty owing to the backdrop of Howe Sound.
This year Sea Cavalcade was cancelled, but Howe Sound Pulp and Paper kindly came forward and offered to put on the fireworks show for free.
This is where outsiders get confused. Instead of jumping at the free offer on behalf of the thousands of residents and visitors who would enjoy the spectacle, Gibsons Mayor Bill Beamish said he was “leaning against the fireworks” and suggested council thank the mill and ask them if they would be interested in working on other ideas such as a film night or concert in the Landing. Councillors were divided or undecided on the issue and it will be brought back, presumably for a vote, on June 4. This week the mayor suggested fire officials could be the final arbiters if they refuse to grant a permit due to the Category 2 open burning ban.
Fire concerns have to be taken seriously, but they did not prevent fireworks at Sea Cavalcade in recent years despite the high fire threat level throughout the province. And the main arguments we’re hearing against fireworks are not fire-related. The Sunshine Coast Clean Air Society, which earlier this year came out strongly opposed to all forms of wood heat, warns in a letter to council of “large quantities of harmful particulate matter” and “potentially toxic metals” being released into the air. The effects of smoke and “loud bangs” on birds are also mentioned. Some dog owners would like to see an end to big fireworks shows because the noise upsets their pets.
Is it defensible then to have one night a year dedicated to such an unrepentantly human-centred activity for the sake of mass excitement, especially for the young?
As long as thousands of people want it, the answer is yes.
That won’t stop others, however, from trying to impose their will on everyone else.