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Pyrotechnic displays under review in Banff National Park

“It is not recommended that low-level pyrotechnics be considered for the event due to human and environmental health effects that could result, especially with it being the end of rutting season for elk."
20201231 NYE Fireworks 0023
Firework displays, such as this one above the skies of Canmore, in 2021 have been banned in Banff since 2018 in favour of pyrotechnic displays, known as quiet fireworks. However, these pyrotechnic shows are now also under review in Banff. RMO FILE PHOTO

BANFF – Pyrotechnic displays for Banff’s Canada Day and Halloween celebrations are fizzling out amid concern for impacts on treasured wildlife in Canada’s flagship national park.

Town of Banff officials say a pyrotechnics show won’t go ahead this year on Canada Day as Parks Canada reviews the impacts of noise and light flashes on wildlife, and the municipality assesses the secondary impacts on pets and people in the community. There is also no pyrotechnics display for Halloween.

In a briefing to council on May 8 on Halloween celebrations, Town administrators recommended against pyrotechnics given Parks Canada requires an impact assessment and preliminary discussions with the federal agency suggest they would unlikely get approval.

Amanda Arbuckle, manager of recreation services for the Town of Banff, said she couldn’t speak for Parks Canada, but ongoing research has indicated the impact of pyrotechnics, whether high level or low level, does have a “significant impact on wildlife.”

“It is not recommended that low-level pyrotechnics be considered for the event due to human and environmental health effects that could result, especially with it being the end of rutting season for elk,” she said of the Halloween celebration.

In 2018, Banff town council banned traditional loud fireworks for Canada Day, Halloween and New Year’s Eve celebrations in favour of special effects pyrotechnics, commonly referred to as silent or quiet fireworks, to lessen stress on wildlife.

The explosive noise from fireworks can cause fear, stress, disorientation and anxiety in wild animals and Parks Canada had reported observing a range of effects on wildlife, from summer nesting birds to wintering elk already distressed by the fall rut.

Even though pyrotechnics have reduced noise because there is no secondary explosion and the low altitude reduces the distance of sound travel, the shows still produced noise, bright flashes, smoke at crowd level and litter that had to be carefully recovered.

In 2018, 2019 and 2022, the Town of Banff provided a pyrotechnics display on Canada Day in place of loud fireworks. Pyrotechnics have also been used on New Year’s Eve in 2019 and 2022, while the last time a quiet fireworks display was held on Halloween was in 2019.

The Bow Valley Naturalists, which had lobbied Parks Canada for about 20 years to say no to fireworks, and believed pyrotechnics was a reasonable compromise back in 2018, welcomed the news.

"Certainly we’re really pleased that Parks Canada is finally taking our concerns seriously and we are pleased with the direction the Town is going on this," said Reg Bunyan, the group's past president.

Coun. Hugh Pettigrew considered pushing for a pyrotechnics show for Halloween, but in the end, realized it might not go anywhere with Parks Canada.

“I hope you can appreciate my difficulty having heard from so many residents that are going to be disappointed,” he said.

The Town is still planning a major celebration for Canada Day for residents and businesses alike and a community event for Halloween in October.

On July 1, a parade of non-motorized wheeled transport, such as bikes and skateboards, will be hosted by the Community Commuters. A main stage in Central Park will host live music and performances. The Canada Day Market is also a returning mainstay in Central Park.

In the heart of the downtown pedestrian zone, at the corner of Banff Avenue and Caribou Street, marching bands, dancers and performers will entertain the crowds throughout the day, while RCMP in full Red Serge will appear in various locations in town, along with roaming performers.

Bear Street will feature a cooling area with picnic tables and amenities in the central part of the street closed to vehicle traffic.

New this year on Banff Avenue, near Wolf Street, will be an art lane, with activities such as chalk art and live painting.

At the Banff Community High School field, a Family Fun Zone will feature a family-friendly stage, Canadian games and activities, and an Indigenous people’s cultural area.

As for Halloween, in addition to $3,000 already earmarked for family-friendly activities the Sunday before Halloween, town council has decided to spend another $6,000 in order to host a Halloween bonfire, barbecue and adult activities this October.

For more than 25 years, there has been a community Halloween event in the Banff townsite.

Mayor Corrie DiManno expressed strong support for a community event that attracts all different ages around this holiday.

She said events for younger kids have been successful, but she likes the idea of also having a community Halloween event that caters to older teenagers and people not into the bar scene.

“We used to take for granted the simple act of being able to celebrate … but being on the other side of the pandemic I think there’s a real thirst for wanting to gather,” she said.

“I am supportive of seeing how this goes in 2023 and then re-evaluating at service review to talk about it moving forward.”

Parks Canada did not get back to the Outlook.

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