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Yesterday morning, I was invited along with a group of local media aboard the Honda Celebration of Light barge. Sirius Pyrotechnic’s Executive Producer Patrick Brault is well known in fireworks circles; he designed the fireworks portions of the 2010 Vancouver Winter Olympic Games opening and closing ceremonies.

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Tonight’s show is designed by UK pyrotechnic company Pyro 2000 and will feature a James Bond “Licensed to Thrill” theme. Graham Wilkinson’s 17 year-old company is based in Huddersfield. Part of his team is currently based in Barbados as they’re prepping for the opening show of the Caribbean Premier Cricket League there.

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Although Wilkinson (as well as the other two competing teams, Canada and Thailand) works together with Patrick Brault once here, the work starts right from the day that a team is invited to participate. Pyro 2000 is constantly working on the show, tweaking and refining effects as time winds down to our festival. Brault and the fireworks organizers wanted to have the UK here last year in honour of the London 2012 Summer Olympic Games, however the problem was timing: our Celebration of Light was held right during their games!

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The barge is patrolled around the clock, as workers live and eat aboard. The kitchen trailer is manned by Calvin’s Café chef Milo Bigler, one of the best chefs in town, according to Brault. Storage, office, sleeping quarters, break areas – it’s all here on the barge. The wood chip barge was donated by Seaspan; as well, they helped retrofit the barge for the fireworks. It’s an ongoing project to make sure the barge is fully ‘fireworks-perfect’ in the future.

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A wood wall in front is a big safety feature. Located over 1,000 feet away from the public, all shows are shot electrically on the barge. A flip of the button can disable part of the barge if there’s a problem during a particular show. Brault allows visiting teams a lot of leeway as long as they follow the guidelines.

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We walked around the safe area outside the wooden ‘sandbox’. Nine staff are involved in the Celebration of Light, plus Patrick. Visiting teams are required to bring a minimum of four staff to the festival. UK’s Pyro 2000 brought six.

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Fireworks can take up to three months to arrive in Vancouver. Classified as dangerous goods, they are loaded on top of a freight ship and sometimes the shipment has to wait it out at the harbour for the next boat. Routing problems can occur when a certain harbour doesn’t accept dangerous goods. A lot of buffer time is planned in order to receive a shipment in plenty of time for the festival.

We asked Patrick how pyrotechnics are trained. “Most people in the fireworks business are in show business, stage techs who were hired on the side, or wind up taking a short course on safety regulations in Canada. They then take show gigs based on availability.”

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I asked how the countries are chosen. Patrick answered, “I do a lot of shows around the world outside of the festival, so I see a lot of other shows. If I don’t know a company but they do have a great reputation, I will try to find videos of their work. If not, there’s plenty to choose from.”

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Shows are funded by sponsors who pay for the hard costs, while the City of Vancouver supplies services. A lot of revenue is generated in the city during these shows.

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Honda Celebration of Light kicks off tonight with the UK, followed by Canada on July 31, and Thailand on August 3. Visit the Celebration of Light website for details.