Canada's penchant for elaborate, expensive fireworks ignites boom in sales
Nothing says Happy Canada Day quite like detonating $1,000 worth of explosives with names like "Super Menace" and "Whisky Tango" in your backyard.
Retailers say growing demand for bigger bangs and wilder effects has sparked an explosion in sales of so-called 'family fireworks' across the country.
Jim Rivers, of Calgary, has set off fireworks displays at his family cabin in the foothills of southern Alberta since 1997. He says they get more powerful each year.
"It's the old 'go hard or go home' kind of thing," he says. "So I just keep buying bigger. It's a blast."
On New Year's Eve, his display gets added competition from his rancher neighbours, who set off their own display about a kilometre away.
"They're shooting some off, we'll shoot some, and then they'll shoot some, and it's really quite amusing. So we have coined it as battling fireworks."
Rivers, who says his favourite effect is called the "barrel full of monkeys", admits he enjoys the competition, but says he loves fireworks for the memories they provide, especially for his grandchildren.
According to the Canadian Fireworks Association, imports of fireworks have more than doubled since 2003. In 2011, the last year numbers are available, imports reached 8,282,752 kg.
Imports — largely from China — are regulated federally, while local bylaws allow fireworks to be used by non-professionals in most parts of the country, with restrictions.
In P.E.I., the use of fireworks without a license is banned, while in Halifax the sale and display of fireworks is permitted year-round.
In Ontario, temporary stores serve demand during the busy summer months, when fireworks are permitted in many cities on Canada Day.
In the last two years, Toronto-based Kaboom Fireworks has more than quadrupled their temporary locations across Ontario, expanding from nine stores to 40 this summer.
"Every year I see more and more people come through our doors," says Andrew Veloza, the company's retail manager. "It's just a newfound appreciation for blowing up some colourful stuff in the sky."
Retailers say they're not only selling more fireworks, they're also selling more expensive designs.
Retailers say a "Roman candle" was once the standard firework for consumers and it cost $20. At Kaboom, a premium "Kaboom Man's Ammo Crate" — featuring 24 technicolour products, from the "Kaboominator" to the "Double Doozie" and the "Ooh La La!," costs about $550. Other more elaborate kits go for up to $1,000.
The popularity of fireworks has extended beyond traditional weekends like Canada Day and Victoria Day. Cold-weather months get a boost from increasingly popular holidays such as Diwali, Chinese New Year and New Year's Eve.
In Vancouver, sales spike around Halloween, the only week of the year in which fireworks sales are permitted.
Professional displays, too, are popular. Toronto-based Rocket Fireworks say they're booked solid for displays at weddings, and Katelyn Hipson of Elegant Productions in Halifax says they are arranging displays for up to five weddings this year.
Fireworks hold appeal across cultures and ages, says Fred Wade, owner of Nova Scotia-based Fireworks FX.
"It's something very deep and elemental in the human psyche, the fascination with fireworks."
But Capt. Gabe Roder of Vancouver Fire and Rescue Services says improper use of fireworks continues to be a major source of burns, property damage and general nuisance, especially when they end up in the hands of children.
In 2012, considered a "quiet" year, fireworks during the week of Halloween caused 16 fires and $97,000 in damages in Vancouver, Roder says. The year before, they caused 37 fires and almost half a million dollars in damages.
But despite the dangers, people's fascination with fireworks will likely continue to grow, says Wade.
"It's kind of like potato chips," he says. "You can't have just one."