Anglo-Chinese cultural mix may explain BC’s penchant for Halloween fireworks
Vancouver historian and artist Michael Kluckner remembers saving up his pocket money as a kid for three things: rides at the Pacific National Exposition, Christmas gifts and Halloween firecrackers.
Kluckner said he would visit grocery stores in Chinatown with his brother to stock up on fireworks in October, in a tradition unique to British Columbia.
“Us kids would dress up a bit and go door to door, tricks or treats and do it as fast as we could and then come back and then get the firecrackers out and start dropping them. We managed not to lose an eye or get blown up,” laughed Kluckner.
« There would be real idiots throwing firecrackers at each other, but most of the time we would throw them in the street or in the garden and see how much dirt we could move. »
Fireworks have long been a part of Halloween in British Columbia’s Lower Mainland, and historians suggest the tradition may involve a combination of English and Chinese heritage.
Although they remain a noisy element of Halloween in many communities, they are now often subject to regulation. The City of Vancouver, for example, prohibits their use by the general public.
Kluckner, who grew up in Vancouver’s Kerrisdale neighborhood in the 1950s, said it wasn’t until much later that he realized fireworks weren’t a universal Halloween tradition.
« I remember calling, trying to find someone who knew of another place where this happened and just couldn’t find anything, » Kluckner said. is also the author of several books on the history of Vancouver.
Sabina Magliocco, a folklorist and professor of sociological anthropology at the University of British Columbia, said Halloween was a time of mischief and vandalism across Canada.
But Magliocco traces BC’s penchant for fireworks back to Britain’s Nov. 5 celebration of Guy Fawkes Night, also known as the Night of the Fireworks.
« Here in British Columbia, we’ve had a lot of immigrants who came specifically from England, » Magliocco said.
Guy Fawkes Night marks the anniversary of the discovery of a plot to blow up the Houses of Parliament in London in 1605. Fawkes was caught under the parliament building with barrels of gunpowder and later executed.
Today, Guy Fawkes Night is mainly celebrated in the UK by lighting bonfires and fireworks.
“This (tradition) came to British Columbia with settlers from England. Now remember that Halloween night is actually not that far from November 5,” Magliocco said.
« In fact, in the past, from the end of October to the first days of November, it was ripe for doing different types of mischief. »
She said the British tradition has « mingled » with North American Halloween culture, giving the West Coast a unique Halloween experience.
« So it’s because of the history of immigration here in British Columbia that we have this maintenance of very English traditions, » Magliocco said.
Kluckner agreed with the theory that English settlers brought the Guy Fawkes Night fireworks tradition here, but there is also a crossover with Chinese cultures.
Chinese-Canadian immigrants introduced the fireworks to fellow British Columbians, through their use in Lunar New Year parades and other celebrations, he said.
“For the availability of firecrackers, I think the enterprising Chinese-Canadian merchants brought them in around that time and it all took off from there,” he said.
“If you think of Vancouver 100 years ago, Chinese immigrants were mostly in Chinatown, but they’re a bit scattered. In the big West End houses they have Chinese cooks and servants.
“They would give the servants a day or two off at Chinese New Year and they would come down to Chinatown and there would be all the fireworks and parades and firecrackers (which) permeated the wider community.”
Over the decades, the province’s fire departments have warned of the dangers of fireworks, including serious injury or starting a fire.
Many communities have completely banned their use, restricted them to Halloween night, or only allowed technicians to purchase permits.
This report from The Canadian Press was first published on October 27, 2022.
This story was produced with the financial assistance of Meta and the Canadian Press News Fellowship.
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