Fireworks Festival Unites

Calgary’s annual fireworks festival, GlobalFest, looks to foster a sense of community By: Skye Mayring
Fireworks reflect off Elliston Lake during GlobalFest in Calgary.// © 2011 GlobalFest
Fireworks reflect off Elliston Lake during GlobalFest in Calgary.// © 2011 GlobalFest

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This year’s festival will be held Aug. 19-27. All dates are tentative; the fireworks presentations can be postponed due to any conditions that the organizers feel may jeopardize public safety, including inclement weather.

The morning walk to the office has become somewhat of a social experiment for me — I’m astonished by the number of people who meddle with their smartphones or are plugged into their MP3 players, avoiding eye contact with passersby. It would seem, increasingly so, that there are fewer reasons for people to share real-life experiences with one another. Ken Goosen, producer of GlobalFest, Calgary, Canada’s nonprofit fireworks extravaganza and multicultural festival, has been working to reverse this phenomenon, even if it’s just for a few nights a year. Through pyrotechnic displays, ethnic cuisine, live music and crafts from cultures both near and far, his international fireworks festival aims to unite people from all walks of life.

“Fireworks have a universal appeal, regardless of age, nationality, gender, income or education, just to name a few [factors]. Fireworks transcend those barriers,” said Goosen. “GlobalFest — which takes place in East Calgary, the region of Calgary that sees the greatest cultural diversity — is also the type of festival that engenders significant community pride.”

Over the course of two weeks each August, GlobalFest generates significant economic return for Calgary as thousands of out-of-town guests visit Elliston Park specifically for the event. Last year, an average of 16,000 individuals attended GlobalFest each night for a combined audience of 80,000 people.

This year, pyromusical designers representing China (Aug. 19), the Philippines (Aug. 21), Canada (Aug. 23) and Italy (Aug. 25) will have their own dedicated evenings to impress onlookers and give them a taste of their home country. 

“When inviting our international design teams, we consider teams that have shown well at other international festivals and competitions,” said Goosen. “Rather than inviting a specific  nation, we look to invite the best designers within the region.”

Each invited designer must incorporate a required piece of music and at least 25 percent of the remaining time must include music from the designer’s home country. According to Goosen, these elements make the shows at GlobalFest unique from almost any other international fireworks festival. The fireworks display cascades over Elliston Lake, the second-largest lake in Calgary, providing an awe-inspiring reflection pond to amplify the effects. 

The finale night, taking place this year on Aug. 27, is considered to be the most spectacular of the five nights of pyromusical presentations, sponsored by Trico Homes. The show has a modestly larger budget, and any of the fireworks that did not fire in the previous four nights of the festival can be added into the finale display. Extra product, however, poses a challenge to GlobalFest’s fireworks director, Alain Carbonneau, who designs the finale show. With choreographed musical fireworks, last-minute additions can be difficult to incorporate because the original fireworks effects were specifically chosen to match the music in color, texture, effect and longevity (the hang-time of the fireworks in the sky). Regardless, the crowd tends to enjoy more bangs for their bucks, and the finale night usually approaches the event’s capacity of 22,500 people.

“The [Trico Homes Fireworks Festival] is the aspect of GlobalFest that attracts the greatest attention and brings most people to GlobalFest,” said Goosen. “However, it is all the other programming and the many on-site activities that truly make our festival unique.”

Included with the price of admission, visitors can wander through 24 ethnocultural pavilions, showcasing more than 60 ethnic communities. The Indonesia Pavilion, for example, will feature Indonesian sculptures and crafts as well as examples of heritage dress. In the Central Africa Pavilion, folk, classical and contemporary dances will reflect the diverse culture of Central Africa. The Black Powder Teachings Pavilion aims to create awareness and understanding between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal people through discussions and cultural arts and crafts, including drum-making and dream-catcher demonstrations.

“This [programming] gives greater depth to the uniting of our community. It also [helps attract] visitors to the festival and to our city as they gain a greater appreciation for the vibrant diversity that can be found in Calgary,” said Goosen.

A dozen international food kiosks — serving everything from Caribbean cuisine to specialty dishes from Colombia, India, Iran and Ukraine — will be stationed around the park, and an on-site bar will pair much of its beverage offerings with the nations presenting fireworks displays. In addition, local vendors will hold a night market, offering arts, handicrafts, jewelry and other ethnocultural products.

General admission tickets are $15 each, and children under the age of five can attend the event for free. A GlobalPass, which costs about $62 and is available while quantities last, allows one guest to attend the fireworks festival each night. VIP passes are also on offer for $37.50 per night. In addition to admission, VIPs are entitled to preferred parking and a shuttle to the park. On the festival grounds, they can hang out in their own tent, where servers will tray-pass hors d’oeuvres, and enjoy prime views of the fireworks show.