Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Culture: Festival of Fire

A longer exposure lent a different appearance to the fireworks during the Festival of Fire at Ontario Place on 10-July-2010

TORONTO, ONTARIO - When I moved to Toronto not that many years ago, the Festival of Fire was a major multi-night event around Canada Day in the summer. On a string of closely-spaced nights, fireworks lit up the sky over Lake Ontario at Ontario Place, with each night dedicated to a different country (inevitably including Canada on 1-July and the United States on 4-July), and a finale at the end. If Wikipedia is accurate, the tradition dates back to 1987, when it was known as the "Symphony of Fire" and was sponsored by Bensen & Hedges tobacco. When it was no longer legal for tobacco companies to sponsor such events starting in 2000, it morphed into the "Festival of Fire" that I came to know.

Some planet-like ringed fireworks surrounded a standard ball during the Festival of Fire in Toronto, Ontario on 3-July-2010

As the economy has cooled, sponsorships have waned and the number of nights in the Festival of Fire has gradually declined. This year, it was down to just three nights, consecutive Saturdays surrounding Canada Day. I was out of town for one of the performances, so this year I saw only two shows in the Festival of Fire, a far cry from when I used to feel okay missing any given night since there were so many.

A long exposure made a ring-shaped firework with rockets following look almost like a flower during the Festival of Fire in Toronto, Ontario on 10-July-2010

The best seats for viewing the Festival of Fire are inside Ontario Place, but there are places to view the displays for free. This year, I establish a routine of walking along Sunnyside Beach at dusk east to Marilyn Bell Park and setting up near the windmill to take in the show. At 10:30, it's time to tune in the simulcast on CHFI 98.1 FM and before long the sky lights up.

Two hearts appeared as the simulcast played Celine Dion's "My Heart Will Go On" during the Festival of Fire in Toronto, Ontario on 3-July-2010

The simulcasts have been a mixed bag in recent years. It's hard to argue with selections like "What a Wonderful World" or "My Heart Will Go On" coordinated with heart-shaped fireworks, but some other songs just befuddled me. How P!nk's "So What?" (which was used on 3-July) makes any sense at all with any fireworks show is beyond me--that can't even be blamed on Canadian content considerations.

A red star appeared during the Festival of Fire above Lake Ontario in Toronto on 10-July-2010

The Festival of Fire has become synonymous with specialty fireworks. Hearts, rings with things inside them, and even star-shaped fireworks all appeared this year along with more conventional shapes. Colours varied, with more half-and-half coloured shells appearing this year.

The finale of the Festival of Fire reflected in Lake Ontario as viewed from Marilyn Bell Park in Toronto, Ontario on 10-July-2010

For me, part of the interest in the Festival of Fire is figuring out how to photograph it. I'm never satisfied with my camera settings; just when I zero in on a good exposure time for a series of fireworks, the style shifts and the settings clearly aren't working anymore. For the finale, though, the sky is so bright that it's often clear--speed up the shutter to near-daylight settings. Then, it's all over until next year.

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