Bursting on the scene: behind the scenes of the Bedford Days fireworks

The magic for the Bedford Days’ fireworks begins off a side road in Grand Pre. Surrounded by apple orchards with a view of wineries in the distant, it’s here the team from Fireworks FX prepares for the Canada Day show.
But after designing and staging the firework shows for more than 30 years, even the owner of Fireworks FX doesn’t get tired of it. “We’re like anybody else that we have a love and a fascination with fireworks,” says Fred Wade, founder and owner of Fireworks FX. “Doesn’t everybody? It’s a really special community event. We feel that excitement like the people in the audience do.”
For 10 minutes as the sky darkens on Canada Day, viewers in and around DeWolf Park will enjoy the Bedford Days’ fireworks show. But the 10-minute display requires months of work.
Once Fireworks FX is awarded a contract, they get the budget, work on a site plan, staff the technicians, and get event approvals, which in the case for Bedford Days and other HRM firework contracts, have to go through HRM Fire.
Then the show creation begins. George Wade is the show designer who creates the shows using computer software called Finale Fireworks. And designing these shows is like a dance. Wade sets some of the shows to music, having certain fireworks explode at various points of the song. On the screen, there is a starry night sky. And just like the real deal, fireworks shoot up from simulated ground of the screen. Wade’s work creative, mixing science and fun.
“You can actually watch the whole show before it’s shot,” Wade says. “It’s kind of like a video game, but a really long, frustrating one. It’s amazing to have a job where I have the opportunity for a creative outlet.”
When Wade finishes designing the show, staff start organizing the components. That includes gathering shells from the large, green industrial bunkers on the site. The bunkers, filled with shells of various sizes, look like shipping containers. Staff test some of the products, including newer shells, on the site. Tessa Wade, who is in charge of administration and sales says their neighbours in the orchards and wineries are used to the pre-shows.
The outside of each shell is made of cardboard. Inside is a fuse, gunpowder, and stars (the components that create the colours of show design). When the fuse is lit, that’s the lift charge. A 12-inch shell can go about 150 metres in the air. Some shells are strung together using fuse delays. That allows the designers to time when each shell will go off. It’s all part of the timing and choreography. China is one of the leading manufacturers of shells. About 3,000 shells comprise the Bedford Days show.
During a show, only the lead technician and the second in charge are permitted on the site. A police patrol boat keeps other vessels a particular distance <<HOW FAR?>> away from the shooting site.
Wade founded the company in 1983. His family used to run a grocery business where he sold some fireworks, which were a hobby of is. When he sold the grocery firm, he opened Fireworks Unlimited, which later changed its name to Fireworks FX to better represent its offerings that included pyrotechnics and special effects. With the exception of one year, the company has been creating shows for Halifax since 1996. The company also creates shows in Atlantic Canada, Ontario, and the Caribbean.
The Department of Natural Resources regulates the use and inspection of fireworks. Tessa Wade says officials from the department conduct annual inspections of the site to make sure bunkers where the shells are stored are safe and the required distance apart from each other. The department also trains the technicians. Trainees take a course via the department, get an apprenticeship license and then work on three shows with Fireworks FX under the supervision of a licensed technician. After that, they can shoot shows on their own.
The company has more than 450 crewmembers in Atlantic Canada. “When we do a show in Newfoundland, we ship the show over and have one of our techs there do it,” Tessa says.
The first show they designed this year was the Annapolis Valley Apple Blossom Festival. That show took place on May 27. “From that point, we don’t stop,” Tessa says.
Every 18 months, the staff attends the International Symposium on Fireworks. There, Wade meets with officials from companies that produce show components. “It’s a good way for us to find out about new trends,” Tessa says.
Fireworks technology continues to change. Years ago, shows were shot by hand, but computers have been involved in the design process for years now. Fred Wade says the companies that produce the shells are working to make them greener. Shells used in shows now almost completely disintegrate during the explosion. The crew picks up what they can. If there are bits remaining on a site, they are biodegradable. And fuse technology is changing, too. Many shells can be lit electronically, so each one explodes at a pre-programmed height and time.
As for this year’s show, Wade says he won’t give away any surprises. “My design style changes every year, so it’s a different show,” he says. “It will be better than last year, 100 per cent.”

This story was originally published in Halifax Magazine.

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