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Calgary to add fireworks back into Canada Day celebrations

Aerial fireworks are back in play as the City of Calgary has added them back to their slate of Canada Day activities.

The news comes hours after 10 Calgary city councillors signed on to a notice of motion directing administration to include an aerial fireworks display as part of upcoming Canada Day celebrations.

The notice of motion was prepped to appear for technical review at a June 1 Executive Committee meeting.

The motion read that Calgary has traditionally held aerial fireworks as a part of Canada Day celebrations and it directs administration to them as a part of the 2023 Canada Day celebrations as long as it can be achieved within existing budgets.  

Previously, the City of Calgary announced it would not have higher altitude fireworks at this year’s Canada Day celebrations. The City cited the observance of the 100th anniversary of the Chinese Immigration Act and Truth and Reconciliation considerations as rationale for making the decision.

That sparked considerable controversy, particularly around a lack of engagement with average Calgarians.  A Common Sense Calgary petition now has nearly 11,500 signatures to bring back the fireworks.

A release from the city on Thursday afternoon said the fireworks would be added back into the celebrations.

“We have heard from many Calgarians as well as members of City Council that while the pilot program is valued, they would also appreciate an aerial fireworks display to celebrate on July 1,” said David Duckworth, City Manager, in a prepared statement.

“We are working with partners to confirm an appropriate site and will share details as they become available.”

The City is staying committed to a wide range of programming on Canada Day, taking into consideration cultural sensitivities, they said.

“Programming will be a mix of participatory, celebratory, and reflective experiences,” said Jeff Chase, Director of Partnerships with The City of Calgary.

“Calgarians will have a variety of options to observe July 1 in a way most meaningful to them.”

Fireworks don’t mean anti-racism and Truth and Reconciliation aren’t important: Sharp

Ward 1 Coun. Sonya Sharp, who expressed her concern about the fireworks decision during the last Executive Committee meeting, told LiveWire Calgary a celebration with fireworks doesn’t mean that commitments to anti-racism or Truth and Reconciliation aren’t being taken seriously.

“The reason we take them so seriously is because we believe in Canada, and we’re proud of what this country has done and what it could be,” she said.

“The fact that we celebrate Canada Day doesn’t mean we don’t take these things seriously, it actually shows why we do it.”

Ward 3 Coun. Jasmine Mian said the most inclusive thing the City could have done would be to add elements, not subtract them. Mian also said that the issue has really highlighted to her that it’s actually not really about the fireworks.

“I think what this experience has shown me it’s a lightning rod for a much bigger discussion that our society is having about what’s the best way to reconcile the dark parts of our history while still acknowledging all of the good,” she said.

“I think starting from a place of cancellation or removal, just puts people in a frame of mind, and you have to inspire conversation and change. You can’t dictate it.”

Engagement prior to making changes

City administration said they were going to engage with Calgarians and get their feedback after this year’s Canada Day activities.

Sharp said changing something this special to so many Calgarians should have meant engagement prior to alterations. Even a pilot project to start. She said her office has had 400 emails on the fireworks issue since Tuesday.

“We do a lot of engagement on other pilots around the city, so of course we should have engaged previous to this,” she said.

“I think what we’ve seen is, not just an outcry, folks are just kind of like, come on this is who we are, this is a celebration and we want our fireworks.”

Coun. Mian said it was likely a situation where the decision and consultation that happened was what was right for the City of Calgary as a corporation, and the relationships with stakeholders that certain business units have.

“I think that there’s a broader ‘big C’ Calgary where that engagement didn’t happen and needed to,” she said.

Budget may come into play here, as the City of Calgary said that last year’s Canada Day celebrations were $900,000, with $125,000 set aside for fireworks.  The total cost of this year’s celebration is $900,000 without the aerial fireworks. 

“I don’t think at this juncture we can let a sum like that hold us back from making the right decision,” Mian said. The bigger challenge is securing the location and materials, she said.

A stage-level pyrotechnical show and a variety of other family-friendly activities are planned for the Fort Calgary event this year.

Coun. Sharp said the city-planned events would still go ahead. This would be in addition to those events. City manager David Duckworth and the admin team is aware of the impending motion that will come to committee June 1 and then hit city council June 6.

“We want to make sure that we’re getting it done and making sure that the money allotted for this would be there,” Coun. Sharp said.

The motion was put forward by Couns. Sonya Sharp, Jasmine Mian, Jennifer Wyness, Dan McLean, Andre Chabot, Sean Chu, Evan Spencer, Terry Wong, Raj Dhaliwal and Peter Demong.