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Canada Day Fireworks Over Ottawa, Canada

July 9, 2013 by  

Canada Day Fireworks Over Ottawa, Canada, On Nepean Point, jutting out behind the National Gallery of Canada, Samuel de Champlain stands watch over an arsenal of shells.

Hundreds of explosives are lined up in neat rows of fibreglass tubes, aimed directly at the Ottawa River. On Monday, a man scrunched into a tiny white booth at the base of Champlain’s statue will press a button, causing Ottawa to pause and crane its head to the sky.

“All shells have a purpose,” Eric Cardinal explained to a reporter Saturday during a behind-the-scenes look at the Canada Day fireworks set-up.

The designer of Monday’s pyrotechnics extravaganza tries to verbalize his favourite shell type but quickly gives up.

“I think I like ’em all.”

The Canada Day show certainly has ’em all.

Group Fiatlux-Ampleman Pyro, of which Cardinal is project manager and part owner, assembled a total of 2,354 projectiles for the 15-minute event. They came from all over – Spain, Italy, China – and represent more than 1,400 unique explosions. The variations add up when taking into account colour, size – they range from 100 millimetres in diameter to 300 millimetres, which is the largest allowable shell in Canada – and what they look like when they go boom.

Yet despite this arsenal of options, Cardinal says, “It’s hard to be very, very creative with this kind of show.”

The fireworks have to be seen easily from Parliament Hill, meaning Cardinal had to design a display that relies heavily on “aerial,” or high-flying, fireworks. (The highest shells on Canada Day will shoot up to 370 metres before exploding in bursts that can be 300 metres in diameter.)

Cardinal was also restrained by the direction of the fireworks. They have to be angled over the Ottawa River so that fallout cascades on to the water, not Canada Day revellers.

Then there’s the creativity bit: The July 1 show isn’t set to music, meaning the explosive choreography, if you will, has to come entirely from Cardinal’s mind. That part doesn’t bother him as much.

Cardinal grew up around fireworks. At seven, he began following around his father around at his pyrotechnics business. Cardinal would later take it over and fuse it with another Montreal fireworks company to form Fiatlux-Ampleman.

“It’s a little bit the variety of the work,” Cardinal says of what draws him to pyrotechnics. “There’s the design part, which is fun to do – to imagine things in my head and put it on paper and make a show out of it – but there’s also that you get to go in the field and work a little physically.”

For a show without music, Cardinal designs segments of explosions that form a whole. The style of each segment is dependent on its position in the show: The earliest and latest parts need the most bang for their buck, literally. Cardinal budgets more money and explosives to the beginning and end of the performance.

Once the visual part is planned, Cardinal backtracks to determine the timing of the explosions and when the shells should be lit. The first needs to explode just as the Parliament Hill festivities come to a close.

This weekend, Cardinal’s team of 10 pyrotechnicians swooped onto Nepean Point to set up the lines of shell racks, boxes of smaller explosives and metal barrels for the largest fireworks. They also criss-crossed the grass with electrical wiring. The shells are hooked up to electrical matches, of sorts, that are then fed to the control box Cardinal operates. And while the entire show is programmed in advance, Cardinal can manually shut off a set of fireworks if they prove faulty or the weather risks making them dangerous.

“This job is all about safety,” says Christian Fauvelle, logistics manager for production services at the National Capital Commission.

A 300-metre perimeter around Nepean Point will shut down part of the Ottawa River to boaters and the entire Alexandra Bridge to drivers. A no-fly zone restricts planes from flying lower than 730 metres (2,400 feet) above the area.

Weather is a consideration too: “Lightning for fireworks is a big no-no,” says Fauvelle, as it can cause problems with the electrical wiring.

Winds stronger than 40 km/h are also dangerous as they might blow firework fallout on to onlookers. No need to worry about all the rain we’ve been getting, though: It doesn’t affect the fireworks and can actually have an appealing effect on the display, says Fauvelle.

The best places to view the Canada Day fireworks display are Jacques-Cartier Park, the Canadian Museum of Civilization, Major’s Hill Park, Victoria Island and spots along the Ottawa River. People attending the performances at Parliament Hill will have a clear view as well.

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