Public firework display plans fizzle out for long weekend

The May long weekend is the unofficial start to the summer season and it usually kicks off with a bang across the country. This year, due to COVID-19, most public firework displays have been put on pause.

Normally, the Victoria Day long weekend signifies the first long weekend of the summer season and it’s usually marked with fireworks and light displays across the country. As the pandemic continues, events, concerts and now firework displays have been cancelled over overcrowding concerns.

For one of Canada’s most popular tourist attractions the pandemic has meant stores, restaurants and other attractions stay closed.

“Niagara Falls, we’re a day's drive to 130 million people. So typically people are so pumped, and this is the weekend, if you're not going up north to the cottage, you're coming south to Niagara Falls or you're crossing the border to go into the U.S.A. Borders are closed,” said Niagara Falls Mayor Jim Diodati.

“There will be no fireworks this weekend. We're asking people not to come yet,” he added. “It's hard not being together when you've got one of the great natural wonders of the world here that normally people want to come from all over to see and people have been coming to see it, but we don't want to encourage anymore.”

This echoes the message of other places across the country, where public firework displays have been put on pause, including Canada’s Wonderland.

Although the large events have been cancelled, some regions are allowing their residents to fire off fireworks on their personal properties.

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Other municipalities are taking a much more strict approach, including the City of Mississauga.

“We have banned the sale of fireworks and the use of fireworks for the Victoria Day long weekend and that is a consistent policy right across the GTA for a whole number of reasons. Number one it draws crowds, which is what we don't want, people together. It also creates mess and inevitably we get bylaw calls for enforcement and our firefighters and police officials are often always called to the scene and that's not how we want to use them this weekend,” said Mayor Crombie.

She mentioned the option for people to view past firework programs online this year instead. If people choose to break the rules they could face fines starting at $750.

“Typically, we will get 311 calls. We'd send over law enforcement or if there's a risk of fire we’ll send off firefighters and they could be issued $750 fines because this is behaviour that has been banned and is not permitted, so they would probably receive a $750 emergency covid ticket,” she said.

And although some regions are rolling back restrictions, large gatherings are still not allowed. However, the Niagara Falls Fire Department says residents in their city can set fireworks off if they comply with the bylaw.

“In every city every fire chief has to make the decision with regards to the fireworks and a lot of the fire chiefs have decided to ban them this year along with the fire ban. Here in Niagara Falls we took a different approach. What we've said is that if people can use them in a safe environment and they follow our bylaws, they may do so,” said Fire Chief Jim Boutilier.

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Mayor Diodati says people shouldn’t be punished for doing a good job complying with the rules during the pandemic.

“The City of Niagara Falls has no problem with people buying and using fireworks during the holidays. The way we look at it, you know we're asking you to stay home so we need to give them some things that they can do while they're at home. Our idea is you've been suffering through this long enough. So many of us have been really frustrated. You can't hug and visit the people you love and you can't do a lot of the things that you want to do, and we're thinking if we're telling you to stay home and you're going to stay home, well I don't think there's any problem with some kids burning down the schoolhouse or playing with some sparklers or doing some fun things like that. We're not going to discourage people from using firework,s we're going to say ‘hey, have a good time at home if you can this weekend’,” said Diodati.

Residents should check their municipality’s website to find out whether private fireworks are permitted.

Regardless, COVID has changed the way people celebrate.

“This will go down as COVID history books, how we did it in the year 2020,” said Diodati.